Health Officials To Distribute Health Report Cards on HMOs and Providers at Walgreens Drugstores
State health officials plan to use 323 Walgreens drug stores throughout California to help distribute "report cards" that rate HMOs and physician groups as "part of a pioneering effort to put information about the quality of health care directly into consumers' hands," the Wall Street Journal reports. The report card, slated for release next month, will rate the state's 10 largest HMOs based on information state regulators collected from several sources, including employers, medical groups and health plans. The report cards should be "especially useful" because they also will contain what is believed to be the nation's first ratings of physician groups, the Journal reports. The cards will offer comparative ratings of 81 medical groups in 11 regions of the state. Both health plans and providers are rated from poor (no stars) to excellent (three stars) in various categories. HMOs will be ranked on categories such as overall customer service; doctor communication and service; and how well the plan helps its members "stay healthy and live with illness." Physician group categories include an overall rating; getting treatment and specialty care; communicating with patients; and timely care and service. The report cards will be available in English, Spanish and Chinese and will provide detailed information about the availability of translation services and non-English print materials. According to the Journal, the program could "shape patient education efforts nationwide" because providing consumers with health care quality information "has proved tough." Larry Levitt, vice president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, said drug stores are "the part of the health care system that people interact with the most. So if you're trying to get information to health care consumers, pharmacies are the place to do it."
Walgreen's decision to offer the report cards is likely to provide the company with "some free publicity as a good corporate citizen." In addition, it could result in increased prescription drug sales as consumers perceive the chain to be concerned about their well-being, the Journal reports. However, "the arrangement carries some risk" because Walgreen has "lucrative contracts" with many California HMOs, and the report cards "may well offer unflattering portraits" of some of those health plans, the Journal reports. The report cards also will be distributed through 61 independent pharmacies in Los Angeles County, and if the program is successful, the state could expand the initiative to other major drug store chains (Benson, Wall Street Journal, 9/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.