Kaiser Permanente, the state's largest HMO, agreed Thursday to make a host of internal changes -- including increased consumer disclosure of its policies -- to settle a lawsuit filed nearly four years ago by consumer advocates.
Kaiser said it would publish on its Web site the detailed medical guidelines its doctors use to treat a host of ailments, as well as information on how it pays physicians. The medical guidelines could be used by consumers to gauge whether their individual doctors are following proper procedures, or as a basis for requesting second opinions.
As part of the settlement to the false-advertising and fraud lawsuit, Kaiser also agreed to step up physician recruitment and to encourage members to select personal physicians rather than seeing a different doctor on each visit.
The health maintenance organization pledged not to offer financial incentives to clerks for limiting or denying access to medical care.
The Times reported last year that Kaiser awarded financial bonuses in 2000 and 2001 to clerks in Northern California who spent the least amount of time on the phone with patients and limited the number of doctors' appointments.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights filed suit on behalf of several patients saying that Kaiser used misleading advertising to recruit new members. The suit also alleged that Kaiser implemented policies, based on financial concerns, that interfered with the medical judgment of its doctors.
Neither party would discuss specific terms of the settlement, such as how many new doctors would be hired, what precise information would be disclosed or when it would be made public.