Phone: 301-933-4641

Tunnel Vision
The Paul Ruskin Public Awareness Campaign

The Washington Post and Kaiser

On Feb. 11th, 2003, I noticed an article by Bill Brubaker in the Business section of the Washington Post. The headline trumpeted “Maryland rates HMOs based on complaints. Kaiser, Aetna get best marks.”

I obtained the Maryland Insurance Administration Complaint Index to which Brubaker was referring.

I found that the study was very specifically limited to insurers over whom the M.I.A. had jurisdiction, and very specific types of complaints only, and only then after internal grievance processes had been exhausted.

The Complaint Index was divided into two parts, for two specific types of complaints. Forty health insurance companies and HMOs licensed to do business in Maryland were studied.

In the first part, 16 companies scored better than Kaiser.

In the second part, 24 companies scored better than Kaiser.

These are hardly “best marks.” An editor at the Post could not argue with me and these numbers, and agreed to publish a Correction of the article’s headline. But I noticed that a full two weeks went by before the Correction appeared on Feb. 25th.

When it did appear, guess what else appeared in the same paper ??? An article beginning with the words “Kaiser Permanente members in Maryland filed few justified complaints……….”

What a coincidence!!! This second article, by Tom Graham in the Health section, was headlined “How Well Does Your Health Plan Measure Up?”

Graham fails to mention that the study had two parts; he discusses only the first part. He further excludes from discussion all but the seven companies who control about sixty percent of the market. He further narrows his focus to the smallest of the seven, Kaiser, with only 4.39% market share, and Kaiser wins!


He does not mention the 16 companies with better scores, in whom you might have been interested. But allow me to follow his “Big Seven” premise and report that, in the second part of the study, Kaiser was beaten by Group Hospitalization & Medical Services and Aetna, both of whom had perfect scores.

These Kaiser-prominent articles occupied a total of some 58 square inches of space. The editor’s correction fit neatly into 3 square inches, just one of several corrections that day, with no headline to grab your attention as it had been grabbed two weeks earlier; it might as well have been given a headstone.