Quality of Plans

How Do I Find Out About Quality?

Quality is hard to measure, but more and more information is becoming available. There are certain things you can look for and questions you can ask. Whatever kind of plan you are considering, you can check out individual doctors and hospitals.

Many managed care plans are regulated by Federal and State agencies. Indemnity plans are regulated by State insurance commissions. Your State Department of Health or insurance commission can tell you about any plan you are interested in.

You can also find out if the managed care plan you are interested in has been "accredited," meaning that it meets certain standards of independent organizations. Some States require accreditation if plans serve special groups, such as people in Medicaid. Some employers will only contract with plans that are accredited.

Several national organizations review and accredit plans and institutions. You can contact these organizations to see if a plan you are considering, or an institution in the plan, is accredited.

Another approach is to ask the plan how it ensures good medical care. Does the plan review the qualifications of doctors before they are added to the plan? Plans are supposed to review the care that is given by their doctors and hospitals. How does the plan review its own services, and has it made changes to correct problems? How does the plan resolve member complaints?

Some managed care plans survey members about their health care experiences. Ask the plan for a report of the survey results.

Some plans and independent organizations are also beginning to produce "report cards." These reports often include satisfaction survey results and other information on quality, such as if a plan provides preventive care (for example, shots for children and Pap smears for women) or if the plan follows up on test results. Report cards may also include information on how many members stay in or leave the plan, how many of the plan's doctors are board certified, or how long you may have to wait for an appointment.

Report cards can only give you an idea of how a plan works and may not give a full picture of a plan's quality. Ask plans if their activities have been reported in report cards developed by outside groups (business or consumer organizations).

Also keep any eye out for magazine articles that rate health plans.

Finally, you can talk to current members of the plan. Ask how they feel about their experiences, such as waiting times for appointments, the helpfulness of medical staff, the services offered, and the care received. If there are programs for your particular condition, how are the patients in it doing?