News with clear eyes. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

Given that insurers and producers are not quite sure what is happening with health insurance these days, it seems likely that consumers feel as if they are looking at the plans through a thick, thick fog.

Aetna Inc., Hartford (NYSE:AET), has tried to gauge the thickness of the fog by commissioning a telephone survey of 1,009 U.S. adults with health insurance other than Medicare or Medicaid.

Aetna found that 30% are not sure how to tell the difference between a health maintenance organization and a preferred provider organization, and 26% have a hard time understanding which providers are in their plans’ networks.

Many policymakers want consumers to drive down the cost of health care and health insurance by shopping around, but 32% of the consumers surveyed admitted that they have a hard time even knowing what the total cost of their health insurance plans is.

Earlier this week, analysts at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Menlo Park, Calif., reported that even Republicans who hate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) like the PPACA provision that will require carriers to provide plain-English plan summaries.

Aetna is working with the Financial Planning Association, Denver, to develop a consumer education campaign designed to clear away some of the fog. The campaign includes a new guide, Navigating Your Health Benefits For Dummies.

DR. TECH

Many doctors are skeptical about whether electronic health records (EHR) will provide enough new efficiency to be worth the cost of giving up manila folders, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is trying to accelerate doctors’ shift to EHR systems.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH), a law enacted before PPACA, offers financial incentives to doctors and hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid and make meaningful use of EHR systems quickly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that the percentage of doctors who are at least starting to use EHR systems has increased to 34% this year, from 17% in 2008, and that the percentage of primary care physicians starting to use EHR systems has increased to 39%, from 20%, officials say.

To get more doctors to adopt EHR systems, and to get the health care providers that have EHR systems to take them more seriously, HHS is going to change the way it phases in the incentive program, HHS officials say.

HHS will try to get the providers to use some EHR technology more quickly, by offering quick-start incentive payments for providers that start using EHR systems this year or in 2012, even if they take until 2014 to meet the full HHS “Stage 2″ EHR meaningful use standards, officials say.

HHS officials say they also will try to offer extra help to providers that have registered for the EHR incentive program but have not yet used EHR systems enough to collect incentive payments.

SMILE, HOUSTON!

Delta Dental Insurance Company, San Francisco, has given $350,000 to the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston to support the school’s 5-year fundraising campaign.

The school will use the grant to set up a Delta Dental Assessment and Clinical Research Clinic in a new dental school building.

The school has now collected a total of $16.4 million in contributions.

Delta Dental Insurance and affiliates provide or administer dental coverage for 25 million people, including 540,000 enrollees in the Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) program. Starting March 1, 2012, the company will help provide dental coverage for enrollees in the Texas Medicaid program.