Journal of Rural Health 14:268-273, 1998.
The impact of the six HMOs studied on rural providers has, to this point, been relatively small. To expand their provider networks in rural areas, the HMOs have been responsive to provider concerns, implementing payment arrangements and utilization management approaches that are acceptable to most rural providers. However, at some sites, changes in HMO and provider relations appear to be on the horizon. These changes include the acceptance of greater financial risk by rural providers and the more aggressive management of costs by the HMOs. With respect to employers, the impact of HMOs have been largely positive. The presence of HMOs in the rural study areas has provided rural employers with new options for structuring health benefits programs. According to some rural employers, health insurance costs have been reduced, or at least constrained, as a result. Rural employers have dealt with employee concerns about access limitations by demanding that HMOs offer broad provider networks and products that permit the use of non-network providers subject to co-payments and deductibles. The impact on rural employees, as evidenced by their responses as well as the views of their employers, has been mixed. Rural employees generally appreciate the broader benefit coverage offered by HMOs as well as reduced paperwork and, sometimes, lower required out-of-pocket contributions toward premiums. However, as with their urban counterparts, rural employees are concerned about restrictions on access to providers of their choice and financial incentives in physician payment arrangements that may discourage the provision of services or the arrangement of referrals.