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 12:03 PM PDT,September 1, 2001

By Associated Press,
LOS ANGELES -- Kaiser Permanente, California's largest health maintenance organization, restricted patients' access to doctors during an ad campaign that touted their accessibility, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

The HMO's campaign used the slogan "you're in the hands of doctors."

But the newspaper's review of documents, including e-mails and notes of private meetings, reveals Kaiser encouraged its doctors in Northern California to make themselves as unavailable as possible to their patients in order to lower patient demand and costs.

Dr. Robert Pearl, chief executive of Kaiser, said at a private meeting that "we chose not to provide our patients with what they desired," the Times reported. Later, Pearl recommended a change in the way the company conducted business to his physician group's board of directors, saying the policy was making patients and doctors very unhappy and wasn't saving money.

Pearl said cost-saving measures failed because most patients persisted in efforts to get an appointment, according to the minutes of a July 2000 meeting.

He recently told the Times that the HMO had become a leader in improving patient access.

Other internal documents show that Kaiser encouraged the use of non-doctors and this worried other employees who said it went against their 1998 "in the hands of doctors" campaign.

Kaiser official Cecilia Runkle complained in an e-mail that "the tag line may promise more than we can deliver."

The internal documents were obtained from a nurses' labor union and a consumer group that sued the HMO for false advertising. The lawsuit is pending.

There was no comment Saturday from Kaiser-Permanente. Spokeswoman Laura Marshall, at the HMO's headquarters in Oakland, did not immediately respond to telephone messages and pages.

The Times said the company denied it misled anyone and cited favorable results from an independent survey of its 3 million Northern California members. When it came to patients' access to primary care physicians, Kaiser was rated above average in the late 1990s compared to other HMOs. Kaiser's Southern California services were rated about average.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press


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