Governor Tim Pawlenty yesterday announced initiatives that will help consumers take control of their personal health care information, encourage more patient-directed spending decisions for state employees and engage Minnesotans in health care policy discussions.

"Minnesota's health care system must be market-driven, patient-centered, and quality-focused," Pawlenty said. "Minnesota took a giant step forward to transform our health care system this year. Now we will lead the nation in the development of portable personal health records and expanded consumer directed health care spending accounts for state employees."

The governor announced his proposals in a speech at the annual meeting of the Smart Buy Alliance, a public/private coalition that uses the combined purchasing influence of more than 60 percent of Minnesota's population to drive improvement in the health care delivery system. The proposals Gov. Pawlenty outlined included proposals to give all Minnesotans access to a personal health portfolio online by 2011 and to provide state residents with healthcare quality and pricing information from providers across the state on a single Web site.

As the first step toward bringing personal health portfolios online for every resident, the governor has directed the Department of Finance and Employee Relations (DFER) to seek proposals for a secure and portable online personal health portfolio for each of the state's approximately 50,000 employees in 2009.

"In health care, information is power. Right now the consumer is the only person in the system without access to their health care information," Pawlenty said. "We need to turn that around and allow the consumer to build their own health care portfolio, control who has access to it and take it with them wherever they go for the rest of their lives."

The online personal health care portfolio is a Web-based set of tools that allows consumers to access and coordinate their health information and make appropriate parts of that information available to those who need it. The information will be stored in a system and accessed by consumers once they create their personal portfolio.

The online portfolios are expected to help control costs, increase quality and enhance safety. For example, parents will be able to save time tracking down immunization records required by their children's schools and sports teams, patients can avoid duplicative tests and procedures, and caregivers will avoid working at cross-purposes with each other because the health care information is not in one place.

As a first step in advancing this effort, DFER will seek proposals to offer secure, portable online personal health portfolios to state employees in 2009. The portfolios will provide individual employees instant electronic access to their test results, electronic medical records, immunization records, prescription history and detection of drug interactions.

Minnesota's private health plans have agreed to provide pricing and quality data on a single website, so consumers have a powerful tool to shop for health care in one place. To begin, consumers will find price comparison information at the yet-to-be-named website in January 2009, including the top 90 percent of high tech imaging and x-ray procedures (by volume), the top 25 lab tests by volume and 100 of the most common procedures. The state currently provides information on prescription drug prices at MinnesotaHealthInfo.com, which also contains information on health care providers.

In 2007, Minnesota began requiring health care providers to use e-prescribing and began building the Minnesota Health Information Exchange (MN-HIE) that will connect doctors, hospitals and clinics across health care systems so they can quickly access medical records needed for patient treatment during a medical emergency or for delivering routine care. The state has already begun implementing e-prescribing for state employees and their dependents through a new prescription benefits manager. Having a single PBM is expected to increase efficiency and save the state about $5 million a year. The savings will go directly back to the health plan to help control rising health care premiums.

Also in 2007, Pawlenty signed legislation creating a new uniform billing and coding process to increase system efficiency and lower health care costs. All providers and payers are required to begin exchanging routine administrative transactions electronically in a single standard format by 2009.

The governor has also created the Minnesota e-Health Advisory Committee and advanced $1.5 million in grants to underserved areas to accelerate the adoption of interoperable medical records. The Governor's Health Cabinet to bring together the heads of state agencies with responsibilities for health care purchasing, regulation and delivery, including agencies that administer Medicaid and the state employee health benefits plan. The Health Cabinet works together in implementing more efficient health care purchasing and measurement strategies.