Study: N. Carolina Cashing In On Medicaid HMOs

In North Carolina, a pilot program that has moved most Medicaid recipients in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, into managed care is saving about $16.5 million a year, while offering improved access to physicians. Those are the findings of a preliminary study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The state's Department of Health and Human Services commissioned the research to determine the success of the Health Care Connection project, which has been under way since June 1996.

Medicaid beneficiaries who were not in long-term-care facilities and who did not have Medicare coverage received information about five HMOs and were instructed to choose one. More than 90 percent of beneficiaries chose an HMO; the rest were assigned one.

Beneficiaries told UNCC researchers that they were dissatisfied with the old Medicaid system, and generally are more satisfied with their Medicaid HMOs, thanks partly to shorter waiting times to see a doctor. Participants still had some complaints, such as the requirement that they show their Medicaid card along with their HMO membership card to receive services. They also criticized the process by which they chose an HMO as rushed.

While the authors cautioned that it is too early to tell if the savings would continue, the state is heartened enough to expand the program to other parts of North Carolina.

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