Quality of Care for Insured Americans Slipped in 2008

by VR Sreeraman on Oct 23 2009 3:13 PM

CNNMoney reports that for the first time in more than 10 years, the "overall quality of health care" for Americans insured through commercial and public plans appears to have slipped. "The across-the-board trend in care quality provided to people with private coverage as well as in Medicare and Medicaid was virtually stagnant in 2008, according to an annual 'State of Health Care Quality' report from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA)," In the report, NCQA President Margaret O'Kane wrote, "This breaks a 12-year run of significant progress. ... While it could be a one-year blip, I fear it may be the beginning of a troubling trend."

Richard Sorian, vice president of public policy with NCQA, attributed the slowing performance of health plans to the economy and the pay-for-service model. "In many cases employers and health plans have taken their eye off quality to focus on cost-cutting," Sorian said, adding that the health industry's pay-for-service model does not create an incentive to improve the quality of care.

The report also "found that the quality of care for many health conditions remained under 50%, including screening for colon cancer, care for mental health and substance abuse and follow-up care for patients taking anti-depressant drugs," CNNMoney writes. It also found some improvements among insurers, "including 'near universal high-quality care' for Americans with asthma and a 12 percentage-point increase in the number of Medicare beneficiaries who persistently received essential medication for six months after a heart attack" (Kavilanz, 10/22).

Market Watch/The Wall Street Journal: "The annual report from [NCQA] says that employers and health plans have shifted their focus almost entirely to the cost of coverage, taking attention away from marked improvements that have been achieved since the group began evaluating health-care quality." The report was released just as Congress is "trying to pass major health-care reform in an effort to extend insurance to all, prevent the exclusion of pre-existing conditions from coverage, bring down costs and still boost quality." NCQA's president urged insurers to participate in quality surveys. She also said "better health plans should be compensated if their care reaches higher standards of quality" (Britt, 10/22).

Source-Kaiser Health News