KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Insurers Fail To Keep Up With Speech Technology, Deny Funding For Devices That Multi-Task

Insurance companies push speech-impaired patients, like one New York woman with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, to buy expensive computers featuring text-to-speech software by refusing to pay for alternative devices, the New York Times reports. Furthermore, they insist on blocking all other capabilities of the proprietary machines they do cover. In the case of Kara Lynn, the ALS patient, a $300 iPhone with an added $150 software program does the job at a fraction of the price. The computers that insurers want her to buy could cost 10 to 20 times as much, and the manufacturers mark up the products by up to 2,000 percent.

"We would not cover the iPhones and netbooks with speech-generating software capabilities because they are useful in the absence of an illness or injury," said Peter Ashkenaz, a spokesperson for the government agency that runs Medicare. Private companies share that rationale. The case highlights the failure of policymakers and the health care industry at large to keep up with "Moore's Law, the principle that computing power rapidly increases even as costs fall sharply," the Times reports.

Another key example is that doctors don't get paid for examining photos of rashes e-mailed in or having phone calls with patients. The patient must come to the doctors office in order for most insurers to pay (Vance, 9/14).

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