New law slashes HMO patients' wait time in California

In 2002, voters of California passed a law mandating that HMOs, which serve nearly 21 million people in California, offer more timely access to medical care. Now the California Department of Managed Health Care finally is ready to implement those new rules, to be unveiled Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to a story in today's Los Angeles Times. California says it is the first state to set time standards for HMOs.

What will these new rules mean? Patients who seek urgent care that doesn't require prior authorization must be seen within 48 hours. Otherwise, patients must get an appointment within 10 days for general treatment and an appointment within 15 days for specialist treatment. When I've been in HMOs in the past, I could usually get into my primary care physician within about a week, so that doesn't sound like a major change. But I've waited months to get to see a specialist.