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Health Care Firms Try 'B2B eCommerce'

Cheryl A. Thompson

When Humana Inc. contracted for Healtheon/WebMD Corp. to speed up claims processing, the managed care company joined the growing number of health care firms moving their business-to-business transactions to the Internet.

By 2002, 32 percent of health care firms' revenues will arrive over the Internet, up from 3 percent in 1999, predicts Forrester Research Inc. Through interviews with 51 health care firms, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company determined that 39 percent of these firms' total revenue already arrives electronically, predominantly through media other than the Internet. "Insurance companies and HMOs will turn to the Internet to improve claims efficiency, bringing $224 billion in claims onto the Net by 2004," Forrester said in a January press release for its report "Sizing Healthcare eCommerce." 

Humana's agreement, announced in January, covers at least three major markets for five years. In return, the Louisville, Ky.-based health care company will exclusively promote WebMD services to physicians and plan members. One month later, Healtheon/WebMD announced a similar contract with Bethesda, Md.-based Coventry Health Care Inc. to handle eligibility determinations, referrals, authorizations, and claims submitted electronically to the managed care company. This three-year agreement starts with 1,700 primary care providers and 3,800 specialists in St. Louis, or 7.9 percent of the company's network physicians. 

Atlanta-based Healtheon/WebMD reports commitments from Microsoft Corp. and E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. to provide a total of $330 million in physician subscriptions over five years and $140 million in advertising and sponsorship. The health care information provider has recently been buying rivals and forming partnerships with companies such as Medtronic Inc., a maker of heart devices.