HEALTH INFO: Consumer Group Unveils Website
While the Internet holds great promise for "revolutioniz[ing] the way consumers relate to their health plans and their doctors," most California health plans' websites currently function as little more than "electronic brochures," writes San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ilana DeBare. The websites detail benefits offered or repackage "information that's already been published in paper form." Almost all health insurers in the state give plan descriptions, but not prices, list doctors with whom they contract and give "[b]asic preventive health information," but only some provide the plan's drug formulary. The exception to this rule is Kaiser Permanente, "which is boldly experimenting with interactive services like online-advice nurses and appointment-making and electronic discussion groups for patients suffering from a common ailment." Tom Ferguson, a professor at the University of Texas who edits an online newsletter on health, said, "My general impression is that most health plans are doing marketing online, and Kaiser is the exception that is doing something substantial." Kaiser's members-only site is available at www.kponline.org, and a preview for non-members is available at www.kaiserpermanente.org/membersonly/overview.htm (9/21).
Information Is Power
Citizens for the "Right to Know" yesterday unveiled a new website -- www.rtk.org -- to help consumers make more informed decisions when choosing health plans. "Making a major health decision on the basis of an HMO's brochure is ludicrous -- we need more and better information to make such important choices," said Liz Helms of Citizens for the "Right to Know," which is an alliance of more than 80 health care organizations and consumer groups including the northeastern California chapter of Arthritis Foundation, the American Association of Retired Persons, the Long Beach Chapter of the American Lung Association, the California Medical Association, the Mental Health Association of California and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. The website features a searchable list of various HMOs' covered drugs. "Most people searching for a new plan know to ask if their doctors are covered, now consumers can inquire as to whether their doctor-prescribed medications are covered by an HMO," Helms said. The website's information on drug formularies is provided by the InfoScan Division of MediMedia, USA, Inc (RTK release, 9/21).