The White House last week appointed a 34-member panel charged with reviewing the impact of managed care on patient care and other quality-related issues, but critics say it is a political gimmick that will do little to bridge the gap between supporters and detractors of managed care.
HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said the panel will draft a "consumer bill of rights" and will report to President Clinton by March 1998.
But GOP critics, including House Ways and Means health subcommittee Chairman William Thomas (R-Calif.), said the commission was little more than a campaign tool.
"I doubt this commission will do anything other than rubber stamp the president's desired governmental intervention into healthcare," Thomas said. "While it may be more good campaigning, it probably isn't good government."
Clinton announced the commission last September during the heat of the presidential campaign. At the time, managed-care plans were concerned it would be a witch hunt. But they were assured by the White House that the commission would review quality throughout the healthcare system.
Other critics question whether the commission will be able to reach any consensus on how managed-care plans should be regulated when its membership includes representatives from managed-care plans and their chief critics like labor and the American Medical Association.
In fact, the newly appointed commissioners interviewed after the announcement had vastly different ideas of the scope of the commission's purview.
Thomas Reardon, M.D., who represents the AMA on the panel, said he believed voluntary efforts at policing managed-care plans like the ones announced last month by the American Association of Health Plans don't go far enough.
However, the panel's managed-care representatives said they opposed further legislation regulating the managed-care industry.
The commission will be chaired by Shalala and Cynthia Metzler, acting secretary of labor.
Thirty-one of the 34 members of the panel were announced last week. The remaining three had yet to receive their security clearance and will be announced within the next few weeks, an HHS spokesman said.
Among the panel members are four managed-care plan executives, one hospital executive, three physicians and two labor union leaders.