Woe to senior HMOs

Butte County stands out in a recent survey about Medicare HMOs—and it’s not for anything good.

“Butte doesn’t have a lot of choice compared to other areas,” said Ann Monroe, director of the California HealthCare Foundation’s Quality Initiative, which teamed up with Consumers Union for the study. The results, released March 20, show that there is only one HMO offered to Butte County—PacifiCare Secure Horizons—and that one got the lowest rating for financial value, with a $79 monthly premium, a $10 copayment required and absolutely no drug coverage.

Almost all plans cover prescriptions, Monroe said; that’s why most senior citizens join them. They may even be assuming drugs are covered when they’re not. “All of the plans in Sacramento County have drug coverage.”

Dan Miller, spokesman for PacifiCare, said that as other HMOs pull out of Butte County, his company is staying put, hoping to provide the best care possible amid declining Medicare reimbursement rates from the federal government. “Due to inadequate funding for the [Medicare + Choice] program, Secure Horizons has had to reduce benefits and pass along more cost sharing to members.” He said the aforementioned report “serves as another tool to illustrate to Congress the importance of restoring adequate funding for all counties.”

He added that even though there are no drug benefits, member can use Secure Horizons’ new Discount Pharmacy Program to mail-order medications at up to 30 percent off retail prices.

Declining levels of coverage is a trend throughout California, and Monroe said now is a crucial time to make sure seniors understand their options, because come July 1, they’ll be locked into whatever plan they choose—be it fee-for-service Medicare or a Medicare HMO—for six months. There are about 5,000 seniors in Butte County in Medicare HMOs, she said, and, “they really need to think about what they need to do.” Available to help in the decision-making is HICAP, the Health Insurance and Advocacy Program, at 1-800-434-0222.

Stickin’ it to The Man

Desensitized to sports teams with names like “Warriors” and “Redskins"? Try on a “Fightin’ Whites” mascot T-shirt for size.

An intramural basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado whose members include Native Americans, Hispanics and whites came up with idea of re-naming itself the Fightin’ Whites, in part to send a message to places like a high school near them that takes the field as the “Fightin’ Reds,” backed by a depiction of an angry-looking, big-nosed Indian. But the name and the shirts are also about getting people to think about all kinds of issues, from Native American health care needs to cultural relations in general.

Patty Mix, a 60-year-old Cherokee basket weaver who lives in Stirling City, called me about the shirts and can’t wait to buy one and wear it in Chico, maybe even to the Crazy Horse Saloon, just to get folks talking.

As for why native peoples might take offense to names like this, Mix said, “People just don’t seem to get it.”

The shirts, sold online at, come in various styles and designs. Some feature a cheery white businessman and state, "Every thang’s gonna be all white." There are also mugs and other gear. My white self thinks it’s pretty funny.