HCFA plans to launch a sweeping survey of the healthcare delivered to almost 4 million Medicare beneficiaries.
The survey, planned for the end of this year, will be one of the largest healthcare consumer satisfaction surveys ever undertaken.
Medicare recipients, likely to be contacted by telephone, will be asked for information that will be used to compile an "apples to apples" comparison between HMOs and between managed-care and fee-for-service systems, said Bruce Fried, director of HCFA's Office of Managed Care.
Several government agencies, including the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, are designing the survey's questions.
"We're looking for ways to ask beneficiaries of competing plans and delivery systems about issues that go to satisfaction and quality," Fried said.
"There's clearly a hunger" for such information on the part of HCFA as a purchaser and on the part of beneficiaries themselves, Fried said. Plan executives also want such information, he said.
HCFA may follow that survey with a survey of Medicaid plans, Fried said.
As the largest purchaser of healthcare in the United States, HCFA must "wisely use that economic power" to monitor quality as well as cost, Fried told an audience at the California Association of HMOs annual conference earlier this month.
Because there is as yet no one method to measure quality, HCFA will use its new survey along with other measures, Fried said. Those include the National Committee for Quality Assurance's "report cards" and outcomes measures being developed by the Foundation for Accountability, a group of consumer advocates, government officials and private employers originally convened by Paul Ellwood, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Jackson Hole Group, a health policy research group.