Blue Shield, Anthem fund statewide info exchange in California

Two of California's biggest insurers are backing plans to launch one of the country's largest health information networks.

Cal Index, due to launch by the end of the year, is expected to make the health records of nearly a quarter of all Californians accessible to providers online.

The two insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California, are providing $80 million to fund the independent, not-for-profit organization for three years. It will integrate records from approximately 30 large provider organizations across the state. After the initial three years, providers and insurers will fund the system through subscription fees, according to an announcement.

The two payers, who combined cover 9 million patients, are backing the initiative because "no one else could bring that level of scale, that level of financing and that level of integration" to the initiative, Blue Shield CEO Paul Markovich told The Wall Street Journal.

Though a Los Angeles Times article points to concerns about patient data privacy and security, patients will have the option to not participate, organizers say, and opting out will not affect their insurance coverage or access to care. The index will adhere to state and federal privacy and security standards. Providers will only be able to access the data of their patients.

In addition to the promise of providing a unified and portable medical record for patients, the index is expected to provide de-identified data for research in areas such as population health management.

A Black Book report found a majority of public HIEs stalling as federal funding dries up. It noted payers snubbing public efforts and instead investing in private exchanges as they fail to see financial gain from government efforts.

A report from the California HealthCare Foundation examining the past 10 years' efforts in establishing HIEs said "[T]he primary question many experts are struggling with is: What constitutes the right mix of government HIT programs versus market forces to continue development of an HIT infrastructure that can support higher quality, more cost-effective health care?"

To learn more:
- find the announcement
- here's the Times article
- check out the Journal piece