Premier Attracting Disgruntled Hmo Patients

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Eighty-six-year-old Jane Miller of Mesa del Caballo drove her old car over to Payson's Elks Lodge on a frosty afternoon that threatened to get worse.

Miller wanted to hear about a new senior health care plan being introduced in Payson and she didn't care if the weather was bad.

She was one of about 25 senior citizens at the 1:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday. Other meetings were held earlier in the week about Premier Healthcare of Arizona's Senior Care plan, and more would be held later that day and on Thursday and Friday.

Many at the meeting belonged to what had been the only HMO in town, Intergroup Senior Care.

"I signed on with Intergroup four years ago when they first came to Payson," Miller said. "They made everything sound good when they first came here."

Now Miller says she is "disgusted" with Intergroup.

"They kept raising the prices on us," she said. "It started with $5 for an office call. Next year, they're going to raise it to $15."

Others echoed her concerns.
Several people at the meeting asked Premier's local representative, Norma Gilchrist, what guarantees they had that Premier would not raise their copayments.

Gilchrist told them the present copayments that Premier lists are good through 1999.

For many of those at the meeting, that was good enough. They were willing to sign on with Premier despite the fact that the company does not have a contract for care with Payson Regional Medical Center. About a dozen local doctors have signed on with the company.

Contrary to a report in last Friday's Roundup, six doctors with Samaritan Family Health Center-Payson are not among those who have contracted with Premier.

Dr. David Cluff, one of the doctors in the family practice group, said it was a corporate decision not to sign on with Premier.

"Samaritan Health Systems is a part of a large corporation," Cluff said. "It was a corporate decision made in Phoenix. The managed care department there didn't like (Premier)."

Because Premier does not have a contract with PRMC, seniors who have signed up with the HMO are apparently willing to travel to Mesa to the Valley Lutheran and Mesa Lutheran hospitals for regular care.

Medical emergencies will be handled at PRMC for Premier members who provide a $50 copay for the care. If the patient is then admitted to one of the Lutheran hospitals, the copayment is waived.

Travel by ambulance down to the Valley is free of charge, Gilchrist said. Physicians in Payson will then contact a doctor or specialist in the Valley for the patient's continuing care at either of the Mesa hospitals.

That possibility didn't seem to bother Jane Miller.

"I'm signing up," she said. "My doctor said long ago that Premier was the only way to go."

Miller's primary care physician is Mark Lawrence, who works with Dr. Ray Hatch, president of a local physician's association which has contracted with Premier.

Miller is hoping that the new HMO doesn't look a whole lot better than it turns out to be.

"I'll be 87 years old next month and I'm still a-going," she said. "I think they see us seniors coming."

Intergroup officials could not be reach for comment.

What to ask
Senior citizens who are considering changing their HMOs can access some helpful information offered by the AARP. A checklist to help you compare managed care plans is available on the Internet at www.aarp.org/monthly/managedcare/checkpoints.html

You can call the AARP at 1-800-424-3410 for more information and to request the checklist in written form.

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