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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan 22, 2003

CONTACT: Jerry Flanagan - 415-633-1320

Secretary Tommy Thompson Lets HMOs Off The Hook for Disease Prevention


Focus should be on corporate behavior, not individual behavior.

Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, called the failure of HMOs to emphasize preventative medicine "wrong-headed" but failed to require insurers to expand such services that could save lives and reduce health care costs, said the national consumer group the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. Thompson announced yesterday a national campaign to promote healthier lifestyles but did not include a plan to hold health insurers accountable for huge premium increases and limitations on care.

"Instead of focusing on individual behavior we should focus on corporate behavior. It is wrong-headed for Secretary Thompson to not require one of the nation's most profitable industries to expand life saving and cost reducing preventative care," said Jerry Flanagan, a consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). "Medical economists, nurses and physicians have known for years that preventing costly disease saves money and lives."

FTCR noted a disturbing trend that while health care stakeholders -- consumers, physicians, nurses, and employers -- are suffering from the financial inequities of the health care market, health plans are enjoying record profits. Health care premiums and out-of-pocket expenses have experienced double digit increases in 2003 and range from 30-100% over 2002 levels for some employers and consumers.

"Health care premiums are increasing and access to care is decreasing: where is the money going?," asked Flanagan.

Instead of requiring HMOs to expand preventative care services Thompson announced a national campaign to shift the burden to consumers.

"We cannot control health care costs and protect patients simply by calling on Americans to live healthier lifestyles," said Flanagan. "This proposal puts the cart before the horse because it fails to address the fact that access to care is being undermined by skyrocketing premiums and limitations on doctor visits."

For more information on FTCR please visit us on the web at www.consumerwatchdog.org.

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