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THE BUFFALO NEWS

Preventive network scores big

"By Jonathan D. Epstein
Updated: 06/03/08 6:36 AM

A planned regional network offering low-cost preventive health services to the uninsured is getting a big boost, with six community hospitals and five independent pediatrician groups agreeing to participate.

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Medina Memorial Health Care System and Amherst-based MedFirst Urgent Care have signed long-term agreements to participate in the new Health Transaction Network. Officials said Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville also gave a verbal commitment.

Also enlisting are Orchard Park Pediatrics, Delaware Pediatrics, Kenmore Pediatrics, Amherst Pediatrics, and Town & Village Pediatrics in Williamsville. All are part of the larger Western New York Pediatrics group.

They join TLC Health Network in Irving and Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, who signed on in January. Together, the providers offer 31 sites.

“I feel really good about it. I like the way it’s come together,” said Joseph E. Wolfson, president and CEO of HTN, and a veteran entrepreneur who previously started two ATM networks.

Wolfson said the enrollments of the six hospitals and five physician groups gives the network critical mass and legitimacy from which to pursue remaining area hospitals, including Wyoming County Hospital and Erie County Medical Center.

He said he is still in discussions with Catholic Health System and Kaleida Health, as well as the UBMD Physicians Group, which has 18 practice groups and operates at 36 locations.

Health Transaction Network is aimed at the uninsured, the underinsured, college students, young adults aged 23 to 35, and those who must meet high deductibles before regular insurance kicks in. Centered around an electronic identification card, it’s designed for basic routine care, not emergencies or major medical needs.

Those who enroll as members will be able to go to any of the participating hospitals or other sites to receive a wide range of health and wellness care. Services range from annual physicals, blood tests and X-rays to flu vaccines, glasses and eye and dental exams.

Payments must be made at the time of service using cash, credit or debit cards. Most services are under $100, some are under $50, but each provider sets its own flat rates, based on what it has negotiated to receive from insurers for the same service. No insurance is used, however, reducing expenses for providers who don’t have to bill patients.

Consumers join the network by signing up at one of the hospitals or MedFirst. The membership card, which has a $10 annual fee, includes a microchip that will store an electronic image of the holders’ fingerprint, created when the consumer signs up.

A similar card for small businesses that can’t afford to offer health insurance to their employees allows them instead to enroll workers in the network and give them cash on a stored-value version of the card. The cards are re-loadable at the hospitals or online.