Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Once loathed, HMOs now score high on patient care

Published: Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 - 6:56 am

In reading the Health Care Quality Report Card, released Wednesday – – you get the sense that health care consumers are much more satisfied with a doctor who's a pain in the neck.

Health providers score better if they pester patients to get cancer screenings, nag them about controlling their diabetes and lecture them about the implications of their chronic conditions.

Health maintenance organizations, as it turns out, are great noodges. On average, they received higher scores than did preferred provider plans when it came to caring for patients in 40 categories.

Once loathed and lambasted, HMOs have seen a tidal shift when it comes to consumer satisfaction, said Liz Helms, president and chief executive at Sacramento-based California Chronic Care Coalition. That includes her own; she's a longtime HMO member.

"As we moved into the late '90s and early 2000s," Helms said, "consumers worked very hard at shoring up protections and rights for patients. … I have seen a shift and a lot of improvement under managed care, and I'm not saying it's bad to have a PPO plan. I think it's a choice. It's people understanding what they're purchasing and what their coverages are."

This year's report card is the result of consumer surveys of HMOs, PPOs and medical providers done in 2010 and 2011. For the first time, the report card is available as a mobile app for iPhone and iPad.

French invasion at Sutter

Jack Breezee runs the cafeterias at Sutter hospitals all around the Sacramento- Sierra region, so if you were going to send a team off to evaluate a company to invade his turf, you might not include him.

Sutter did – and he came back sold.

It was January 2010, and Sutter was in the throes of evaluating food service options for an expanded medical center at the edge of midtown Sacramento. Sutter Capitol Pavilion and the Anderson Lucchetti Women's and Children's Center would join Sutter Memorial.

Breezee flew off to the frozen climes of Ohio along with Larry Maas, assistant administrator for the Sutter expansion project. Their destination was the Cleveland Clinic. Regarded as one of the top four hospitals in the nation, it rambles over six city blocks.

Though afforded a range of dining options, employees there frequent Au Bon Pain more than any other eatery, Breezee told me.

Maas said: "They're nationally recognized for providing healthy food, informing you about the caloric content of the food. You can't blow your diet and not know it – no burgers or fries, etc. Jack and I … both went (as) skeptics and came back sold."

Sutter announced in mid-2011 that Au Bon Pain was coming, but readers have asked me about when. The answer is that it's already here, sort of.

Au Bon Pain began serving an abbreviated version of its menu at midtown's Sutter General in December and opened a tiny grab-and-go outpost in Sutter Memorial in February. These eateries are a prelude to what's planned.

"We originally envisioned one location, which was this spot on L Street at the north end of Capitol Pavilion where you see all that glass," Maas said. "That will be the first site of Au Bon Pain as the public knows it. … The big part of the franchise is in the basement on the south end of Women's and Children's. We have about 6,000 square feet of shell space where Au Bon Pain will build a cafeteria and seating area (for 250)."

A pastel life at 21ten

Marbo Barnard isn't giving up painting, she told me, but she's done her last solo show. It's hanging now at Gallery 21ten, 2110 K St. in Sacramento. Gallery owner Michael Key told me: "Marbo is a tiny, sassy, Japanese woman, 85 years young who is having her last solo show after 50 years as a master pastel artist."

In 2008, the Japanese native received the Pastel Laureate Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Pastel Society of America. Preparation for the show was exhausting, Barnard said, and she realized that she's "too old" to do it again. Key said the show will come down on April 6, but he'll be open until 8 p.m. on April 5 to give people a couple extra hours to see it.

Call The Bee's Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193.

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