Study Blasts Medicaid; Data Questioned

September 16, 2003 - Posted at: 5:03 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A study by a team of Arkansas doctors claims private health insurance plans provide inferior care for poor children using Medicaid funds.

But the insurance industry says the article uses old information and could undermine recent improvements.

The study was published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Some states enlisted private managed care providers to serve Medicaid patients ten years ago and began reporting audited quality data in 1997 to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, which sets standards for health care nationwide.

Dr. Joseph Thompson, a policy researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, studied the data for 1999 and focused on issues unique to children and adolescent care.  For example, he found that pregnant Medicaid patients were less likely to go for a pre-natal care checkup than patients enrolled in a commercial plan.

But the national quality committee says the researchers' four-year-old data paints an unfair picture of the health care system less than 48 hours before new data for 2002 becomes available.

Select figures made available by the committee to The Associated Press show Medicaid plans improving their delivery of care by 15 to 20 percentage points from 1999 to 2002 while commercial plans have improved only slightly.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.