The New York Times reports that patients in health maintenance organizations in California should see their waiting times for doctors’ appointments reduced and even their telephone calls to physicians answered promptly under sweeping new rules that, for the first time, establish time standards in medical services. And if this project is successful, look for a national roll-out over the next few years.
California would be the first state with such requirements, which demand that H.M.O. patients be seen by a general practitioner within 10 business days of requesting an appointment and a specialist within two weeks.
Doctors must return a patient’s call for treatment within 30 minutes and be available 24 hours a day. People with urgent needs must be seen within 48 hours. The rules, authorized by a 2002 state law but delayed by years of bureaucratic wrangling, will be unveiled Wednesday and phased in over the next year.
But even champions of the new rules acknowledge they may result in higher premium fees if, as expected, H.M.O.’s hire more doctors or incur other costs to meet the time demands. The need for more doctors could worsen if Congress extends insurance to 30 million more Americans. How do you like that plan, doc?