MEDICARE HMOs: Internet Offers Plan Comparison
In an attempt to "persuade older Americans to get more involved in managing their health care," Medicare is urging seniors "to use the Internet to shop for the best medical plan," the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. A new feature called "Medicare Compare" on the Medicare Web site, www.medicare.gov, allows interested consumers and prospective HMO enrollees to "compare health plans on benefits, out-of-pocket costs and premiums." Through the site, consumers can obtain a list of available Medicare HMO plans available by zip code, then compare the listed plans according to "33 individual benefits, such as prescription drug coverage and emergency room visits."
Work In Progress
The Pioneer Press reports the Web site does have a few glitches: some of the information is hard to find and some is incorrect. But, on the plus side, the site offers "a wealth of information ranging from Medicare basics, to a managed care glossary, to tips on detecting fraud and suggestions for healthy living," as well as plan comparison data in a standardized format. According to the Pioneer Press, most new users are "impressed" with the service. "I thought it was a good place to start if one were considering becoming a member of an HMO. The comparison shopping was very good," said senior citizen Ellen Carle. Dick Albrecht, 73, a retired chemical engineer, said he was "surprised" at the extent of information available. He said he found the site "very simple, very direct, very easy to use." Some consumer advocates, however, were not satisfied. Gail Shearer, a Washington, D.C.-based health care policy expert for Consumers Union, said the Internet site "should include quality ratings and such data as patient drop-out rates" for specific plans. Medicare spokesperson Chris Peacock explained that the site is "evolving" from its initial "trial run" phase. He said that "results of patient satisfaction surveys" and "quality measurements, including drop-out rates" will be added later this year and next year.
Learning To Click
Currently, only about 10% of the nation's 38 million Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in HMOs, "but the number is growing by 80,000 to 100,000 a month." In order to access Medicare HMO comparisons, the elderly are going to have to become more familiar with the use of computers, points out Georgetown University health policy researcher Geraldine Dallek. "In 10 years, there will be a computer-literate Medicare population, but right now a lot of them can't use it" she said. The Pioneer Press notes that "the importance" of informed choice is growing. Today, "Medicare beneficiaries can join or leave an HMO at will," but beginning in 2002, beneficiaries "will have to keep their choice for a whole year" (Zaldivar, 3/17).