"Lab Industry Briefs"

ProxyMed, MedePass, Cigna, Aetna

FORMER SBCL PRESIDENT HAS QUICK TOUR AS CEO OF PROXYMED, INC.

IT WAS A SHORT TOUR OF DUTY as Chief Executive Officer at ProxyMed, Inc. for John B. Okkerse, Jr., Ph.D.

On May 19, after only six months as ProxyMed’s CEO, Dr. Okkerse stepped down as part of a cost-cutting move at the financially-beleaguered company. Along with Okkerse, ProxyMed’s Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Marketing Officer and a senior sales executive also vacated their positions.

Okkerse, formerly the President of SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories (SBCL), had assumed CEO duties at ProxyMed in November 1999. It was a logical tie-in for Okkerse and ProxyMed, since the company offers connectivity products to physician offices which include laboratory data.

In fact, in December, ProxyMed signed a contract with Laboratory Corporation America to allow physicians to order tests from LabCorp using Proxy-Med’s ProxyNet® physicians’Web portal.

ProxyMed’s 1999 sales were $29.0 million, but losses from acquisitions and continuing operations have put the company in a crisis mode. There is no word on Dr. Okkerse’s career plans since his departure from ProxyMed.

INTERNET SECURITY FOR PHYSICIAN TRANSACTIONS IS APPROACHING

Here’s a development of high interest for laboratory executives and pathologists offering Internet-based services. MedePass, Inc. of California is preparing to offer “digital certificates” to physicians and other healthcare providers.

These certificates are “computer files that act as electronic identification cards, or signatures [and] allow participants at both ends of an Internet communication to know with certainty that the other user is, in fact, who he or she claims to be.”

The California Medical Association will participate in the credentialing process that creates the certificate. The Social Security administration and several healthcare companies, including Kaiser Permanente, have already agreed to accept these certificates.

ROUGH WATERS AHEAD FOR MEDICARE HMOS

EXPERT OBSERVERS PREDICT that many managed care companies are about to pull out of the Medicare HMO program.

These predictions were triggered by Cigna Corporation’s announcement, on June 4, that it would cease to offer Medicare HMO programs in a number of urban markets. Approximately 104,000 Medicare beneficiaries will be affected.

In some markets, Aetna, Inc. has stopped advertising and accepting new members to its Medicare HMO. By July 1, Aetna may follow Cigna in exiting the Medicare HMO business.

Currently there are about 6.2 million seniors enrolled in Medicare HMO plans throughout the country. This is about 16% of Medicare-eligible individuals.

This development may help clinical labs now providing testing services to Medicare HMOs. Since lab contracts are capitated, migrating Medicare HMO beneficiaries back to fee-for-service care will boost lab test revenues generated by these patients.

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