Health Consumer Alliance Report Finds Consumer Centers Successful in Helping People Access Health Care
A California coalition of consumer groups last week released a report that found that its legal assistance programs have made a "dramatic impact" in helping low-income individuals solve "previously intractable" problems related to government health programs and managed care. The annual report from the Health Consumer Alliance, which is partnering with the National Health Law Program and is primarily funded by the California Endowment, examined the work of HCA's six legal services agencies, located in Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco and San Mateo counties (Health Consumer Alliance release, 11/16). Workers at the centers offer advice and referrals to consumers, and if necessary, conduct intervention with health plans or programs. On average, during each month in the period covered by the report -- March 1, 2000 through Feb. 28, 2001 -- the six centers helped 920 consumers "navigate the health care system" and conducted 65 community education events attended by 4,734 low-income consumers and staff members from community-based organizations, in an attempt to assist consumers with the complex procedures found in managed care and in Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program, and Healthy Families, the state's CHIP. Sixty percent of low-income Californians reside in the counties surveyed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Dorn, "Health Consumer Alliance Annual Report 2000-01," 11/2000). The report, based on a random sample of HCA-assisted consumers and conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California, also found that:
- The centers obtained care for 68% of consumers who had been denied care or had experienced "other service problems" with managed care organizations.
- For 65% of consumers terminated from a public health program, the centers "found that these denials were improper and persuaded government officials to restore the consumers' health coverage."
- Seventy-one percent of consumers who used the center found the assistance "very helpful," while 17% of consumers who had "previously sought other sources of help" found those other sources helpful.
"When consumers get expert and independent help navigating the health care system, the results can be dramatic," Stan Dorn, author of the report, said. According to HCA, the consumers trust the assistance programs because they are independent and "uncontrolled" by employers, insurers, providers or government. A bill has been introduced in the California Legislature to expand the programs, and "several other states" now fund similar programs (HCA release, 11/16). The full report is available at www.healthconsumer.org/HCAAnnualReport2001.pdf. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report and the press release.
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