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quality of health plans. When the standards and processes of private credentialing agencies meet or exceed those of the federal government, private organizations should be used to reduce duplication in the market. The federal government might well foster competition and innovation among private credentialing agencies for different aspects of this function.
Communication with beneficiaries about the quality of a health plan and traditional Medicare plans should be done by the Medicare Customer Service and Enrollment Center by using the latest information available from credentialing processes and the latest techniques for communicating plan performance. In this vein the federal government should give priority to research and demonstrations on communicating quality performance information to beneficiaries.
The committee recommends the development of common definitions for reporting quality for use by individual plans and for auditing plans against their own published reports to the federal government.
Managed Care and Underserved Populations
The committee is concerned about ensuring access to health plans and their services for all beneficiaries, including those in vulnerable populations and underserved areas. Although the average Medicare beneficiary has been shown to have good access to care, certain groups who have been identified as vulnerable in traditional Medicare may be at risk for access problems in Medicare managed care. These groups have been identified by PPRC to include African-American beneficiaries and those who live in Health Professional Shortage Areas or urban and rural poverty areas. Evidence indicates that managed care arrangements have been slow to include underserved populations, especially those in rural areas (Institute of Medicine, 1996).
At the workshop and through the commissioned papers the committee was made aware of the special value that elderly individuals place on having easy access to their physicians, and the importance that they place on being treated by their providers in a respectful and a socially and culturally sensitive way.