HMO bashing has become a national sport, but a new national consumer satisfaction survey found HMOs outperformed PPOs and fee-for-service and point-of-service insurance plans.
The survey results, released last week, come at a time when Congress is considering legislation to curb alleged consumer abuses by HMOs.
Although unable to comment on how the study will affect managed-care legislation, a spokesman for the American Association of Health Plans said that sound data should be considered when making healthcare decisions.
"Data and accountability are absolutely essential to making good choices about healthcare," said AAHP spokesman Don White. "That's true for consumers and patients as well as policymakers. We welcome good solid data and encourage policymakers to use data when they make policy."
In a study of 181 health plans in 20 markets across the U.S., HMOs received more top scores than PPOs and fee-for-service and point-of-service plans, according to the Medstat Quality Catalyst Program.
Sponsored by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Medstat Group; Agoura, Calif.-based J.D. Power and Associates; and Boston-based New England Medical Center, the Quality Catalyst study asked 81,000 enrollees to evaluate their plans on issues including choice of providers, confidence in their plan, physician care, cost of premiums and deductibles, and access to care.
HMOs made up less than half the plans profiled but achieved top ranking in more than 61% of the markets.
Minneapolis-based United HealthCare Corp. was a big winner, rated the best in the Houston-Galveston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas of Texas and tying for best in the Dayton-Springfield area of Ohio, according to the study.
"We were struck by how well HMOs did relative to our expectations and the HMO backlash," said Dennis Becker, senior vice president of Medstat.
The annual study began last year, covering only six markets. Next year, it will expand to 35 or 40 markets, with new cities to be determined by national employers, said Andree Joyaux, manager at Medstat.
Based on consumer ratings, the study identified top plans in each market. Between five and 17 plans were evaluated in each geographic area.
Choice of providers, which includes consumers' perception of having an adequate number of quality physicians from which to choose and the ease of making a selection, had the biggest influence in determining plan performance, the study said.