OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington State Medicaid program said it will no longer send out paper copies of provider alerts and billing instruction updates, but will send a postcard telling physicians and other providers to check the agency's Web site for the information.

The information, which includes numbered memos describing policy changes and billing instruction updates, used to be mailed to a wide range of providers, including physicians, dentists, certified nurse practitioners, physician assistants, hospitals, clinics, providers of medical equipment, and other institutions and professions involved in Medicaid clients' health care.

"When we communicate with these partners, it's very important that we reach them and know that they get the information they need," said Doug Porter, assistant secretary of the Medical Assistance Administration (MAA) in the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). "But the efficiency of using a postcard rather than mailing thousands of bulky memos and billing instruction changes is much less costly and should prove easier for everyone."

The provider memos and billing instruction updates are a specialized communication that may include important Medicaid procedure changes; changes in different billing instructions; prescription drug preference changes; announcements of new projects; or other information vital to the providers.

Under the new system, the same information will now simply be posted on the Provider section of the MAA Web site. The postcard sent to the providers will include a specific URL pointing to the Internet address of the information.

The MAA said providers can still request a hard copy of the memo or billing instruction updates by writing, calling or faxing the state printer, whose contact information is listed on the postcard.

The MAA also said it is scrapping its own in-house distribution of hard-copy memos and billing instructions: DSHS staff members who need to be on the alert list will now simply receive e-mail notice of the change that will include a direct link to the Web site.

Porter said savings have not yet been estimated because the provider memos and billing instruction updates vary in size and frequency and because the mailings represent a fraction of MAA's total postage costs. The MAA issues approximately 100 provider alerts a year, he said, noting that one full mailing earlier this year cost $1,200 in postage, while a similar memo handled via postcard later cost only $600.

Because the agency is spending nearly its entire postage budget for FY2003 on warrants -- which reimburse providers for treatment -- the agency is attempting to persuade providers to voluntarily accept electronic transfers of reimbursements.

Porter said MAA will also limit the postcard distribution to actual health-care providers because many non-provider mailing addresses had been added to the mailing list over the years, and MAA was spending postage to send the provider memos and billing updates to lobbyists, specialized business and others.

These names and addresses were culled, but received a final notice to let them know it would be their responsibility to check the Web site for new memos in the future.

"Our feeling was that these kinds of interested parties should take the initiative to check the Web site on an ongoing basis, looking for changes," Porter said. "It is not something taxpayers should be underwriting with postage."