Federal Efforts to Enhance Patient Quality of Care

HEHS-96-20: Published: Apr 10, 1996. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Health Care Financing Administration's (HCFA) efforts to enhance the quality of care for Medicare beneficiaries, focusing on: (1) the strategies to ensure that Medicare providers furnish quality health care, in both fee-for-service providers and health maintenance organizations (HMO); and (2) experts' views on desirable attributes of a quality assurance strategy if more managed care options are made available to Medicare beneficiaries.

GAO found that: (1) HCFA monitors the quality of care in the Medicare program and has the authority to require corrective action or withhold Medicare payments from substandard providers; (2) Medicare's quality assurance strategies include setting minimum standards for health care organizations and implementing systems to identify and discipline substandard fee-for-service providers and HMO; (3) the Medicare Provider Certification Program ensures that fee-for-service institutional health care providers serving Medicare beneficiaries meet minimum health and safety standards; (4) the Medicare HMO Qualification Program ensures that HMO with contracts to serve Medicare beneficiaries meet minimum financial and structural standards; (5) HCFA has failed to enforce Medicare quality assurance requirements for HMO; (6) the HCFA medical record review strategy, implemented through the Medicare Peer Review Organization (PRO) Program, identifies providers whose care does not meet recognized medical standards; (7) the new HCFA quality assurance strategy, called the Health Care Quality Improvement Program, tries to buy the best care possible for Medicare beneficiaries and reflects state-of-the-art quality assurance practices; (8) experts believe that programs designed to ensure quality care provided to Medicare beneficiaries through a variety of managed care arrangements should build on existing efforts, use many measures to evaluate care, encourage continuous quality improvement, and make information about providers available; and (9) the dubious nature of previous quality assurance implementation efforts raises concern about its ability to implement its new quality assurance strategy.

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