HMOs with low scores on quality indicators are three times more likely than high-scoring health plans to stop publicly disclosing their performance data, according to a study that casts doubt on the validity of the nation's quality-assessment programs. The study, appearing in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association, found that up to half of all HMOs participating in the Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set, a quality-monitoring program by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, stopped reporting their performance data in 1998 and 1999; of those dropouts, HMOs that scored low the previous year were three times more likely than better performers to stop reporting. For example, 66% of HMOs that scored the lowest on the 1997 HEDIS measurement for providing biannual mammographies stopped reporting their scores in 1998, compared with 25% of plans with the highest scores on the measure. The selective withdrawal by lower-scoring plans could skew average performance scores upward, misleading the public into believing that HMO quality is better than it really is, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School and Public Citizen's Health Research Group, which conducted the study. -- by Laura B. Benko
Low-scoring HMOs often stop disclosing data: study
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