By Romel Hernandez
Ask Dr. Merrit Quarum how he got his start in business, and he’ll point you to a tiny item among the back page advertisements for x-ray glasses and electric socks in Popular Science magazine from January 1966:
“MINIATURE DIGITAL COMPUTER. Complete mechanical equivalent of an electronic brain —can add, subtract, multiply. … Solves problems from missile countdowns to bank accounts. Or can be used for fun, like fortune telling. Ingeniously designed so you can watch its fascinating operation.”
Quarum paid $4.98 for the Digi-Com “computer”—a red and white plastic thingamajig with metal rods, no bigger than a breadbox —that he still keeps, along with its instruction manual, in his office.“People poo-pooed my little plastic computer,” he says. “Well, you’d be surprised by what that thing can do.”
Thirty years later, Quarum’s interests in medicine and technology inspired him to form Qmedtrix, a Portland company that helps corporations control spiraling medical insurance costs. Qmedtrix offers a range of services to its clients, but at the core it’s a watchdog, rooting out waste and abuse in health care pricing.
The company touts that it saved clients$270 million last year in unnecessary or inflated charges. Some examples, according to Quarum: a $153,000 back surgery bill was reduced to $3,275 after Qmedtrix analyzed the data; a knee arthroscopy of $67,000 was cut to $4,200; an epidural steroid injection went from $22,000 to $579.
“The cost of health care affects everyone in this country,” Quarum says. “I believe we can fix the system.” Qmedtrix’s mission is nothing less than overhauling the way the healthcare industry does business.
“There’s buzz about them because they’re doing things right,” says Linda Weston, president and executive director of the Oregon Entrepreneurs Forum. “They’ve got a solid business plan and solid leadership.”