A commonly voiced concern is that health maintenance organizations (HMOs) may withhold or delay the provision of urgent, essential care, especially for vulnerable patients like the elderly.
To compare the quality of emergency care provided in Minnesota to elderly patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) who are covered by HMO vs fee-for-service (FFS) insurance.
We reviewed the medical records of 2304 elderly Medicare patients who were admitted with AMI to 20 urban community hospitals in Minnesota (representing 91% of beds in areas served by HMOs) from October 1992 through July 1993 and from July 1995 through April 1996.
Main Outcome Measures
Use of emergency transportation and treatment delay (>6 hours from symptom onset); time to electrocardiogram; use of aspirin, thrombolytics, and β-blockers among eligible patients; and time from hospital arrival to thrombolytic administration (door-to-needle time).
Demographic characteristics, severity of symptoms, and comorbidity characteristics were almost identical among HMO (n=612) and FFS (n=1692) patients. A cardiologist was involved as a consultant or the attending physician in the care of 80% of HMO patients and 82% of FFS patients (P=.12). The treatment delay, time to electrocardiogram, use of thrombolytic agents, and door-to-needle times were almost identical. However, 56% of HMO patients and 51% of FFS patients used emergency transportation (P=.02); most of this difference was observed for patients with AMIs that occurred at night (60% vs 52%; P=.02). Health maintenance organization patients were somewhat more likely than FFS patients to receive aspirin therapy (88% vs 83%; P=.03) and β-blocker therapy (73% vs 62%; P=.04); these differences were partly explained by a significantly larger proportion of younger physicians in HMOs who were more likely to order these drug therapies. All differences were consistent across the 3 largest HMOs (1 staff-group model and 2 network model HMOs). Logistic regression analyses controlling for demographic and clinical variables produced similar results, except that the differences in the use of β-blockers became insignificant.
No indicators of timeliness and quality of care for elderly patients with AMIs were lower under HMO vs FFS insurance coverage in Minnesota. However, two indicators of quality care were slightly but significantly higher in the HMO setting (use of emergency transportation and aspirin therapy). Further research is needed in other states, in different populations, and for different medical conditions.