When the National Committee for Quality Assurance issued its lists of the 10 best Medicare and Medicaid managed care health plans last month, the announcement garnered a lot of attention. Which was part of what the organization wanted. John Rother, the AARP's director of policy and strategy, says,"For consumers the message is still: Do your homework. Health plans are not all the same. Make a list of what is important to you and find information from NCQA...."
However, there have been questions raised as to whether employers pay enough attention to NCQA ratings, let alone the older and/or poorer populations served by Medicare and Medicaid.
"We hope that packaging this as a top ten list will increase consumer attention, but any time you put new information into the market there is a learning curve for consumers and you always have to start at the bottom," responds NCQA spokesman Brian Schilling. "It's a learning curve, certainly, and we're expecting that in a few years, we'll see a much different picture. Every time one of the plans on this list advertises that it offers higher quality care or made our top ten list (and they will), it raises awareness and helps educate the market. Might be slow going, but over time it will move the market in the right direction."
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires all Medicare Advantage plans to publicly report their results through the NCQA, and more than 100 Medicaid plans now do the same.
"We have a CMS contract to collect data from Medicare plans and they allow us to use the data to generate reports like this," says Schilling. "The 100 Medicaid plans that are referenced above give us their data voluntarily. Those data are available in NCQA's Quality Compass, for public consumption."
Still, by Schilling's estimate, there are about 350 Medicaid health plans.
"But remember that two years ago the number was zero Medicaid plans publicly reporting," he adds.
The insurers that made the lists are the nation's top overall performers on a range of key clinical performance measures related to issues such as cancer, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and immunizations, says the NCQA. The organization further points out: "Of the top 10 Medicaid plans, at least six are from states where Medicaid health plans earn reimbursement incentives if they deliver higher quality care — a compensation strategy called 'pay for performance' that is gaining widespread acceptance in health care. More than 80 pay-for-performance projects are currently under way and CMS, the nation's largest purchaser of health care, is among the most committed supporters of the strategy."
Adds NCQA President Margaret E. O'Kane: "These health plans provide daily proof that achieving excellence isn't a question of plan type or market or profit status — it's hard work and accountability."
*List includes 11 plans because some scoring differences were too small to draw distinctions.