The committee recommends that neither the Medicare choices' payment incentives nor their coverage and treatment protocol policies motivate providers to evade their ethical responsibility to provide patients with complete information about their illness and treatment options (such as referrals to a specialist), what to the best of the provider's knowledge the patient's plan covers, and which health plans in the provider's experience provide the broadest range of services to the patient in question.

Competition among Medicare choices is likely to restrict the definitions of inappropriate services by refining the definitions of medical necessity and appropriate services to contain costs and ensure quality. The committee finds that it is important for beneficiaries to have access to the unbiased judgments of their practicing physicians regarding their health needs in the context of plan procedures and protocols so that they, as patients, can make informed choices and thereby shape this new understanding of "appropriate."

Within the scope of its responsibilities, the federal government should identify practices that inhibit open communication between a provider and a patient in any setting and either prohibit them as conditions of participation of plans or require the plan to disclose such practices to potential enrollees. The committee recommends that the federal government require plans to disclose to plan enrollees how physicians get paid, whether they are rewarded for withholding referrals, and any other restrictions affecting how physicians can inform or treat plan enrollees. Similarly, educational materials should make clear the incentives in traditional Medicare and Medigap insurance to provide unnecessary care and the risks of these incentives.

Recommendation 6

The federal government should hold Medicare choices accountable by requiring them to meet comparable conditions of participation as a Medicare option and by monitoring and reporting on their compliance with these conditions.

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