Illinois to Establish Internet Service to Provide Care Technique Information for Parents of Premature Infants
The Illinois Department of Public Aid has set aside $400,000 in Medicaid funds to connect parents of premature infants to an Internet service that allows them to access information about their children's condition and care techniques, even though 75% of parents eligible for such a service do not own a computer, the Chicago Tribune reports. Baby CareLink, a for-profit program operated by Clinician Support Technology of Framingham, Mass., provides parents educational materials about prematurity and gives them advice on how to better care for their infants once they leave the hospital. Although many hospitals across the country are offering parents access to the program, Illinois is the first state to use Medicaid funds to do so. The current pilot project is operating at Cook County Hospital and Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Chicago; the two hospitals account for the highest number of births to Medicaid beneficiaries in the state. If the program is successful, it may be expanded statewide, costing the state as much as $12 million per year.
Critics of the program say it is wasteful because the majority of eligible families do not have computers at home and the information it provides already is available through books and brochures. They also question the program's cost in light of Gov. George Ryan's (R) recent budget cuts. Ryan cut "tens of millions of dollars" in Medicaid funding for hospitals last year and has proposed cutting "hundreds of millions" more in health spending in his budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. However, Dennis Farrell, executive vice president of CST, said the program will "save the state more money than [it is] spending." He cites a clinical trial conducted at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and published in the journal Pediatrics that found infants whose families were enrolled in the program were discharged from the hospital earlier because their parents were adequately trained to care for them. However, the Tribune reports that all the families participating in the study owned computers. Officials at both hospitals participating in the Illinois pilot project endorse the program, noting that parents can access computers at the hospitals or through family or friends. Mt. Sinai Vice President Linda Miller said the program should reduce the length of hospital stays, thereby saving the state and hospitals $2,000 per day in care costs and could prevent infants from having to be readmitted by teaching parents how to properly care for them (Berens/Long, Chicago Tribune, 3/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.