The committee heard again and again that elderly individuals place key importance on their ability to have access to "their" traditional providers with whom they have developed a personal relationship.
The importance of considering the effect of personal and cultural factors on access is heightened by the changing demographics of the U.S. population. The committee heard that certain Medicare beneficiaries (particularly low-income and minority groups) may be at significantly higher risk of not being able to continue to be seen by their traditional network of providers in an environment of managed care. Because of the lower socioeconomic status of many individuals who are members of minority groups, a managed care plan may be the only delivery option that is affordable.
As managed care plans continue to develop they will have an increased responsibility to improve access for underserved populations. The committee believes that health plans should be held responsible for serving their entire service area without compromising access or quality of care. The committee found that some providers who have served their communities for many years or who are part of essential community provider networks, have not obtained the credentials required by some managed care organizations either because of institutional racism or common practice within their specialty to forego board certification. It is important that health plans develop several measures of clinical competence that are sensitive, valid, and reliable in their ability to assess clinical competence through both outcome and process indicators. The committee heard testimony that managed care plans often do not disclose their credentialing standards and policies. At the very least, such disclosure should be required. The committee lauds the efforts under way in HCFA, PPRC, a number of health foundations and other groups to track and address key issues that could arise in monitoring access to care under a restructured Medicare program.
Broad access for Medicare beneficiaries is key. The committee recommends that the federal government ensure that there is adequate access and choice of plans for individuals in all