Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Health Advocates Help

Currently, the health advocacy business is an industry with about $50 million to $75 million in annual revenue but only about a half-dozen companies of any significant size, said Richard Rakowski of Intersection LLC, a Connecticut-based investment and development firm that has researched the field.

But those numbers have grown from a few years ago, and it may be on track to become a $1 billion industry based on the demand for the service, said Rakowski, the firm's principal.

The field is blossoming in the wake of cutbacks in corporate health benefits, an overhaul of Medicare and other changes that have forced medical consumers to shop more for medical care.

More than ever, people need help negotiating the medical system, said Jessica Greene, a University of Oregon health policy analyst.

"We're asking consumers to make more complicated decisions, but the numeracy and health literacy skills of many consumers are not at the level needed to handle this new responsibility," Greene said.

Health Advocate claims to be the largest of these companies. Founded in 2001, it now has more than 3,500 companies, unions and other organizations as clients, including Johnson & Johnson, American Express and The Home Depot Inc.

Altogether, about 2.6 million employees, or members, are signed up with Health Advocate. But the number who can use it is actually higher: Members can share the call-in number with spouses, children, parents and parents-in-law — including elderly kin who need help picking a Medicare prescription drug plan, finding a nursing home or arranging transportation for health care. With all relatives added in, Health Advocate's membership as roughly 12 million, Fischer said.

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