News Release

PO 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
Christine Grant
For Release:
July 27, 2000
For Further Information Contact:
Rita Manno
Dennis McGowan
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Department Receives Grant To Conduct First Statewide Survey
To Assess Consumers' Satisfaction with HMOs' Mental Health Services

TRENTON -- The Department of Health and Senior Services has received a $230,000 grant to conduct the nation's first statewide survey to assess consumers' satisfaction with mental health services delivered by HMOs.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the survey will assess consumers' perspective about mental health services delivered by New Jersey's largest HMOs, including how quickly care was given, respect and helpfulness of office staff, what information was provided by clinicians about medications and their side effects, treatment effectiveness and ease in obtaining treatment through their plan.

"Consumers can use this information to compare the quality of competing health care plans," said Governor Christine Whitman. "Also, this is another tool HMOs should use to judge their success in providing New Jersey residents with mental health services."

Up to 10 of the New Jersey's largest HMOs will be surveyed through the mail with 3,000 to 4,000 people receiving surveys. All personal information will be removed from the surveys to assure confidentiality. To further assure privacy, the survey will poll both plan members who are using mental health services and those who are not, including general questions about HMO services.

The statewide survey will be conducted by Eagleton Institute's Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University and analyzed by the Department. The survey, a standardized poll developed specifically for measuring consumer satisfaction for mental health services and substance abuse, will be conducted beginning in December 2000. Results will be available in the summer of 2001. The survey was developed by researchers at Harvard University Medical School.

Five New Jersey HMOs that received low marks on delivering mental health services on the department's 1999 HMO Performance Report have shown significant improvement in first-quarter 2000 reports that tallied the number of follow-up visits to patients with mental health illnesses. The national standard recommends that patients be scheduled for a follow-up visit with a mental health practitioner within 30 days of their hospitalization for mental illness.

In the first-quarter of 2000, Aetna's follow-up percentages went from 47 percent to 74 percent; AmeriHealth increased from 58 percent to 69 percent; Horizon increased from 69 percent to 76 percent; Oxford increased from 32 percent to 64 percent; and Physicians Health Services went from 6 percent to 63 percent. Aetna's figures were combined to include both HMO and point-of-service (POS) follow-up visits.

A sixth HMO, United Healthcare, was exempt from providing a first-quarter progress report due to a new data collection system.

"Follow-up therapy after a hospital stay is critical to detect problems or adjust medications," said Commissioner Christine Grant. "We are encouraged by these first-quarter progress reports and hope to see continued improvement. HMOs must strive for the highest levels of quality care and service and they must be held accountable to ensure New Jersey consumers receive the best medical services possible."

Commissioner Grant requested quarterly progress reports be submitted to the department following the release of the 1999 HMO Performance Report. She also asked the HMOs to submit updated mental health screening data, to explain reasons for the reductions and outline their corrective action plans to improve the number of follow-up visits.

Corrective action steps submitted by the HMOs included improving data collection systems, increased oversight and coordination by the plans that sub-contracted their mental health services to private organizations, increasing staff size, establishing more effective tracking procedures to capture data, and increasing training and education for staff members.

To further gauge mental health performance, a new behavioral health measure will be included in the 2000 report card that will record follow-up visits for patients who have been treated with antidepressant medication.

The New Jersey HMO Performance Report: Compare Your Choices gives consumers information on how well the eight largest commercial HMOs and seven point-of-service (POS) plans are delivering quality health care and customer service. The report card compares the plans in 24 different areas such as child immunization, cancer screenings, diabetes management and cardiovascular health.

The HMO Performance Reports are available on the department's website at

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