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Attorney General Opposes Provider Quality/Cost Rankings

Saturday's New York Times reports on an effort by the Attorney General's office to shut down UnitedHealthcare's imminent pricing and quality rankings:

In a sharply worded letter, the New York State attorney general's office asked a health insurance company yesterday to halt its planned introduction of a method for ranking doctors by quality of care and cost of service, warning of legal action if it did not comply.

The letter was addressed to Thomas J. McGuire, a senior lawyer in Hartford for UnitedHealthcare, a unit of UnitedHealth Group in Minneapolis.

It asked the company to cancel its plan to release the rankings in September, citing a furor over a similar program's introduction in Missouri in 2005. There, physician groups, including the American Medical Association, said the cost rankings primarily reflected the cost of care to the insurer --- not to patients.

Assuming that AMA's assertion is true, I'm not sure why that invalidates the rankings. Costs of care are paid out of premium dollars which are ultimately paid by patients and employers, so while the patient's interest in seeing cost is indirect, it's still rather salient.

Linda A. Lacewell, a senior lawyer in the office of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, wrote in the letter that the ranking would apparently be used to steer consumers toward selected doctors. "To compound the situation," she wrote, "we understand that employers may act on these 'ratings' to offer financial inducements such as lower co-payments or deductibles to promote 'cost-effective' doctors to their employees."

Ms. Lacewell said patients might be steered toward doctors based on flawed data and UnitedHealthcare's "profit motive." She wrote, "Consumers may be encouraged to choose doctors because they are cheap rather than because they are good."

Flawed data is obviously worrisome, but if the data is valid one wonders at length why consumers shouldn't be able to choose cheap over good if that's what they want.

Read the full article here.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 17, 2007 11:36 AM.

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