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Medicare Ratings System Largely Untapped By Seniors

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, October 19, 2011

The federal government's efforts to promote Medicare's new and highly touted Star Quality Ratings for health plans is so far not reaching most of its target audience.

A survey released by Kaiser Permanente during the Medicare open enrollment period this month found that only 18% of Medicare-eligible seniors were familiar with the star quality ratings, and that less than one-third of those seniors used the ratings to pick their health plan. Further, only 2% of 483 Medicare respondents in the Harris Interactive poll said they knew the star rating for their plan.

Jed Weissberg, MD, senior vice president, Hospitals, Quality and Care Delivery Excellence, Kaiser Permanente, told HealthLeaders Media that the low levels of usage aren't that surprising because the Medicare Star Quality Ratings System is fairly new.

"That speaks to (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services') challenge in communicating vital information to 44 million beneficiaries," Weissberg says. "CMS has just put together this very complicated composite measure system over the last year or so. They are starting to call more attention to the rankings, and they are getting experienced with it themselves still."

The star quality rankings compile 50 care quality measures, including preventive screenings, the management of chronic conditions, and customer service. The measures are put into a format that allows Medicare beneficiaries to shop and compare prices and services before buying a plan.

Kaiser Permanente was one of only 12 plans nationally that earned the coveted five-star rating. That select dozen are eligible for about $3 billion in incentive bonuses, and can market their plans throughout the year, and not just in the designated enrollment period. The quality ranking also includes a health outcomes survey which examines temporal changes in overall member health.

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