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take into account the evolution of higher standards and new systems and structures for ensuring informed choice and public accountability of Medicare choices. (See Box 3-2.)
Quality Assurance and Outcomes
The availability of Medicare choices introduces a potential for competition among plans on the basis of improvements in quality of care. To capitalize on this potential, the quality of service provided by health plans must be measurable and must be communicated to beneficiaries in a way that is relevant to them so that quality can be taken into account and so that a beneficiary can make an informed choice. Choice in health care, as in any environment, also introduces incentives to restrict the provision of or payment for services to remain competitive. This can produce effective and needed economies by reducing inappropriate or noncovered services. It may also, however, reduce the amount of appropriate care provided. Quality measures, monitoring, and meaningful ways of disclosing and communicating findings are needed so that the federal government and beneficiaries can hold plans accountable for reaching an appropriate balance between restricting inappropriate care and providing appropriate care.
The committee finds that quality measurement and communication are still in the early stages of development, especially quality measurements based on outcomes. Important initial efforts are under way by private credentialing agencies, such as NCQA's HEDIS, JCAHO, the Foundation for Accountability, and others, to develop reporting systems and measures of health plan quality. These efforts, however, reduce but do not eliminate the risk of poor quality.
To best ensure quality, all Medicare choices should be subjected to comparable state-of-the-art standards and monitoring for quality. The federal government should use the best of the currently available technology to set standards and monitor the