OPEN ENROLLMENT: L.A. Times Health Section Offers Tips
Noting that the annual "open enrollment" season when Californians can "select or switch" health plans is approaching, the "Health" section of yesterday's Los Angeles Times included several articles intended to arm consumers "with information, tips and resources."
- "Does Your Health Plan Measure Up?" In this article, the Times' Alissa Rubin reports that the "key to navigating the system is understanding how it works," and that it does not hurt to be a bit aggressive. In the "emerging world of managed care, you need a new set of operating instructions" that "help you head off problems before they occur" and "get the medical care you need when disputes arise." The rise of managed care has produced a "new mindset" to "reduce the cost of care." As a result, "if you want to get the best possible medical care, you need to be an activist. That does not guarantee that you will get the result you want, but it will take you in the right direction." Rubin lists four things consumers can do to "lessen the likelihood of a problem" with their health plan or HMO: "Know what your insurance policy covers; Know the answers to frequently asked questions; Bring a list of questions when you visit the doctor; Keep a written record of your meeting with your doctor" (9/28). Click here to read the article.
- "Competition, Complaints Spur Health Plans to Evolve" The Times' Sarah Yang details how to choose a health plan, noting it is "worth your while to spend more time scoping out the options" now that many plans are offering more "consumer-oriented products and services." Whether due to increased competition or managed care backlash, health care consumers will most likely find it easier to get an appointment with a specialist, find more drugs on their formulary and find grievance procedures "more efficient and consumer-friendly." Many health plans and HMOs are also providing greater access to alternative treatments like acupuncture, massage therapy and stress management. Another new trend is the use of Internet services, such as online enrollment and information services (9/28). Click here to read the story.
- "Keeping the Medications You Need in Reach" While consumers most often focus on which doctor or hospital to choose during open enrollment, the Times' Shari Roan contends that it is just as important to consider "the plan's prescription drug benefit" and to "know what actions you can take to get the medications you need." Del Konner of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association said drug benefits are important "because it's the thing you use more often than any other benefit." Citizens for the Right to Know's Kassey Perry said the "drug benefit is often the first interface a consumer has with their health plan and the most cost-effective portion of the health care dollar." Also, beginning Jan. 1, two new laws go in effect that give consumers greater information about and protection of drug formularies. Click here to read the story.
- "The Art and Science of Picking a Doctor" The Times' Julie Marquis writes that "[s]electing a doctor may be one of life's most important consumer choices." Taking that into consideration, "many doctors and consumer advocates recommend relying on a few key guidelines, common sense and, to a large extent, instinct." Experts say that one of the most important things to keep in mind when choosing a doctor "is finding someone you can talk to comfortably." The article also lists helpful web sites consumers can turn to when searching for a dependable doctor: The American Medical Association's Physician Select site -- www. ama-assn.org; MedSeek's physician directory -- www.medseek.com; The Medical Board of California's website -- www.medbd.ca.gov; and the American Board of Medical Specialties -- www.certifieddoctor.org (9/28). Click here to read the article.
- "What if Your Child Has a Chronic Illness?" The Times' Kathleen Doheny says the key to finding the right doctor for your child is "investigate, investigate, investigate" (9/28). Elizabeth Jameson, senior analyst at the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the UC-San Francisco School of Medicine advised consumers to see if their health plans "will give you access not just to a specialist in a particular field, but to a specialist who works primarily with children." Click here to read the article.