PATIENT ADVOCACY: Firm Guides Patients Through HMO Labyrinth
A new San Rafael-based company called Care Counsel is helping consumers navigate the often-complicated world of health care coverage. For "a fixed monthly sum of approximately $1 to $1.50 per worker," employers contract with the patient-advocacy firm so their workers "can call up Care Counsel any time they need help" handling the intricacies of their health insurance. While health care consumers "have long been able to hire lawyers or other advocates to represent them on an individual basis in health care disputes," the San Francisco Chronicle notes that Care Counsel "is the first firm in California to sell patient-advocacy services as an employee benefit."
10,000 Strong And Growing
Care Counsel currently serves about 10,000 workers at three companies, but CEO Lawrence Gelb hopes to expand that number to 100,000 by the end of next year. Gelb said most calls to his company come from patients "who are perplexed about choosing a health plan," or who are disputing a claim. While Care Counsel "hasn't yet turned a profit," some observers predict that the firm's usefulness will be limited to small and midsize companies because large firms "can field basic health coverage questions through their own personnel departments and should have enough clout with health plans to demand good service." Jeffrey Klonoff of Hewitt Associates, said, "For most large employers, this should be unnecessary. If you need a third party to continuously advocate for your employees, there's a problem with the employee/health plan relationship." However, some employers are grateful for Care Counsel's service. Lon Records, CEO of Target Specialty Products, which contracts with Care Counsel, said, "We get more bang for our buck with Care Counsel than with any other benefit we provide. ... I don't have time to [lobby personally] for every employee. Care Counsel fills a big, big gap in the health care chain that really needed filling" (DeBare, 9/21). Click Care Counsel for past CHL coverage of the firm, or access its website at www.carecounsel.com.