Office of the Patient Advocate
State of California
“Health Care Quality is getting the right care at the right time.”
First rating is for “HMO provides recommended care,”
and the second rating is for “Getting care easily”:
*** * Aetna Health of California, Inc.
*** * Anthem Blue Cross – HMO
*** ** Blue Shield of California – HMO
*** * CIGNA HMO
*** * Health Net of California, Inc.
**** ** Kaiser Permanente – Northern California
**** * Kaiser Permanente – Southern California
*** * Sharp Health Plan
*** * UnitedHealthcare of California
*** ** Western Health Advantage
By Don McCanne, M.D.
California’s Office of the Patient Advocate defines health care quality as getting “the right care at the right time.” So how well are the HMOs doing?
To assess whether or not the right care is being provided, the HMOs report their compliance with standard Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set (HEDIS) measurements. The HMOs make certain that their health care professionals are aware of the 37 HEDIS measurements that will be made, and that they know that it is important to be certain that compliance is documented.
All ten of the California HMOs were able to document that they were either “good” or “excellent” at providing the right care for these 37 measured clinical recommendations. No measurement was made of the hundreds of thousands of other clinical decision processes that take place. It remains debatable as to whether 37 HEDIS measurements are adequate to determine if the HMO is always good or excellent at providing the right care, but there are those of us who have our doubts (pardon the cautious, restrained language).
So regardless of whether or not it was the right care, was it provided at the right time? Patients were surveyed about “experiences in getting appointments with doctors and other providers when needed and getting tests, treatments and other care without delay.” No HMO was rated excellent; no HMO was rated good. Three were rated fair, and seven were rated poor. At least from the patients’ perspective, care was not being provided at the right time.
Under a single payer system, patients have free choice of their health care professionals and institutions. HMOs take away that choice, subjecting patients to severe financial penalties should they obtain care outside of the HMO. The results of this survey suggest that, once HMOs have captive patients, they limit access by limiting system capacity and by establishing queues that are beyond the tolerance of their patients.
The delegated model of HMOs has no place in a single payer system since they function more as intrusive private insurers rather than as truly integrated health care delivery systems.
HMOs that are fully integrated health care delivery systems, such as Kaiser Permanente, do have a place in a single payer system. Right now, Kaiser is heavily dependent on workers enrolling in Kaiser’s plans through their employment, often choosing Kaiser as their least-worst option.
Once we have a single payer system with patients choosing their health care based on perceived quality, to compete successfully with the rest of the health care delivery system, Kaiser will have to show that they can deliver the right care at the right time. After all, that’s what single payer is all about.