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In what could be a boost for the Los Angeles job market, Prudential HealthCare plans to open a 1,400-employee national service center in the Los Angeles area some time in the next year.

“They’re in the process of identifying a site now,” said Prudential spokeswoman Peggy Frank Lyle.

The center, slated to open by the first quarter of 1998, will be one of four regional offices the company is opening to consolidate billing, member service, and eligibility and claims paperwork. The other centers will be in Florida, New Jersey and Texas.

“Los Angeles has provided an excellent environment for business development, and we’re excited to be able to add to our presence in California,” said Jeff Kamil, president of Prudential Health Plan of California, in a prepared statement.

Michael Gagan, a consultant representing five L.A.-based HMOs including Prudential in separate tax discussions with the City of L.A., said the eventual outcome of the tax dispute could affect where in the L.A. area that Prudential decides to locate. “One of the very significant things Prudential is looking at is the current tax burden (on HMOs) and what the city does about it,” he said.

Prudential’s Peggy Frank Lyle disputed Gagan, saying there is no one-to-one connection between the new office and the tax issue.

“I’m here to tell you this business decision is a national initiative. It’s totally on a separate track and has nothing to do with any discussion of HMOs’ paying of taxes,” she said.

Establishing the four regional offices will let Prudential standardize what is now a hodgepodge of systems across the country, the company says. That, Prudential officials hope, will improve customer satisfaction and quality control, and ultimately lead to greater membership.

The “competitive health care industry requires that we make this move,” Kamil said.

The company says it doesn’t know how many of the 1,400 positions will represent new jobs. “We have no way of knowing how many people will” move from Prudential’s four other California offices to Los Angeles,” Kamil said. But work now done in Stockton, Simi Valley, San Diego and San Mateo will all be shifted to L.A., he said. Prudential HealthCare currently employs 1,800 people in L.A. County.

Better brain monitors

Researchers at UCLA and Nicolet Biomedical Inc. in Wisconsin have developed a new kind of monitor for patients coming out of brain surgery. Eight of the monitors have been installed at UCLA’s Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit at the school’s medical center, making it the only such equipped center in the world, hospital officials say.

The new monitors give physicians more information after an operation. Pre-existing monitors provide just electrocardiogram (EKG) and intracranial pressure data. The UCLA-Nicolet monitors do that, plus give ongoing electroencephalogram (EEG) and cerebral perfusion information. That helps doctors identify potentially damaging brain seizures.

About 20 percent of brain-injured patients suffer seizures, according to the researchers, but the seizures, which can give no external indications, are undetectable with pre-existing bedside monitors.

The UCLA-Nicolet monitors give “a new way to view patients’ health status and gives indicators of how they can be expected to progress,” said Dr. Marc Nuwer, chief of neurophysiology at the UCLA School of Medicine.

The machines also collect the data and post it to a World Wide Web site that physicians can access remotely. “It puts the doctor at the virtual bedside by providing not a subset of data, but complete clinical information instantly,” said Dr. Valerit Nenov, the UCLA neurologist who helped develop the Internet part of the system.

WellPoint purchase goes through

On March 3, WellPoint Health Networks Inc. completed its $87 million purchase of the group health business of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., adding another 1.3 million names to its membership roster. Woodland Hills-based WellPoint now provides health coverage to 5.8 million people nationally.

WellPoint, which in California markets its coverage under the Blue Cross of California moniker, had hit a roadblock last month in its acquisition efforts, when a federal judge in Detroit issued a temporary injunction blocking the deal.

The injunction came as the result of a lawsuit filed by SelectCare, a provider-sponsored managed care organization based in Michigan. SelectCare and John Hancock had jointly provided health care services to 400,000 enrollees in southeast Michigan, and SelectCare didn’t want John Hancock revealing proprietary information to WellPoint without its permission.

Rather than fight in court for the disclosure rights, John Hancock parted company with SelectCare, signing a deal with another Michigan provider organization, Preferred Provider of Michigan.

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