Insurance system turning to Web

The West Virginia Public Employee Insurance Agency, which administers programs for more than 200,000 public employees, retirees and dependents, plans to install a Web-based architecture to streamline costs and improve service.

The agency, or PEIA (www.wvpeia.com), last week issued a request for information for the new insurance eligibility and billing system, expected to be functioning before July 2003.

The state agency, which manages more than $400 million in revenue annually, is responsible for the health insurance needs of state government employees and state teachers as well as for participating state-funded colleges and universities, county boards of education and other municipal services.

"The current system is fraught with high administrative costs," said Phil Shimer, the agency's deputy director. "It's difficult to support. It's insufficient to handle the volume of data we have. It's been prone to errors and the subject of several legislative audits. We're spending a lot of time and money on maintaining it."

Shimer said the current IBM Corp. AS/400-based system also is difficult to access, and only PEIA staff members and benefits coordinators from individual agencies can do so. Eventually, a Web-based system would allow policyholders to view their information or, at least, conduct the once-a-year open enrollment themselves, he added.

The new system would also have to be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, a federal law designed to protect people's health privacy and improve efficiency of health care delivery.

Agency officials are uncertain whether a system that fits all these needs exists and whether the agency can buy or lease it. It's unlikely that the current system would be retrofitted and a new multimillion-dollar system would be built and installed, he said. The RFI, he said, would help shape a request for proposals once the agency knows about the kinds of systems available.

Shimer also said several other state agencies, including those that administer the children's health insurance program and public retirement plans, are considering joining the project.

Interested vendors must respond to the agency by Jan. 31.

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