DAVID BROWN, anchor:
Now if you’ve been following the debate over a so-called patients’ rights bill, you’ve been hearing the complaints about impersonal treatment; you know, doctors more beholden to HMOs than to their patients, that sort of thing. Well, today one major HMO announced a plan to give an incentive to doctors, not to keep prices down, but to provide customer satisfaction. From the health desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.
HELEN PALMER reporting:
Now if you were a cynic, you might think Blue Cross of California, faced with the Senate’s passage of a Patients’ Bill of Rights, was trying to buff up the HMO’s rather battered image by making patient satisfaction, not cost containment, the engine of doctors’ bonuses.
Mr. JEFF KAMIL (Blue Cross of California Medical Director for Policy and Quality): It’s not a bid to make our image better; it is a bid to re-balance the health-care system and make quality count.
PALMER: Putting quality front and center, says Jeff Kamil, Blue Cross California’s medical director for policy and quality, won’t push up costs.
Mr. KAMIL: We think that quality care delivered at the right time, the right place is cost-effective and will lead to contained medical costs.
PALMER: But consumer advocates aren’t convinced about this new focus.
Mr. JAMIE COURT (Advocacy Director, Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights): I see this as a well-timed PR ploy without much significance, mostly sound and fury.
PALMER: Jamie Court, advocacy director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, says he’ll believe HMOs are really paying attention to quality when they get rid of capitation, the system of paying a flat fee per patient regardless of how ill or well they are.
Mr. COURT: There’s always going to be an incentive for doctors to provide less treatment because they’ll make more money.
PALMER: He also believes a system like this, that relies on patient surveys and interviews, will favor doctors treating the healthy and well-heeled at the expense of those physicians who serve the poor with multiple health problems and limited English. That’s a criticism shared by the California Medical Association that represents doctors as well. Employers’ groups, though, applaud the scheme, reckoning it sets a new, higher standard for the rest of California’s managed care companies. In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for MARKETPLACE.