Basic facts: Kaiser Family Foundation puts healthcare facts and figures at the fingertips of policy makers, MCOs, and the public

March 1, 2008

If you had $40 million to spend each year on a philanthropic mission in healthcare, what would your mission be? Helping the uninsured? Bankrolling demonstration projects? To deliver the greatest impact within the $2 trillion U.S. healthcare system, you would have to be choosy about your commitments.

Consider the impact of a different commodity: information. Sophisticated research, trend tracking, basic facts and statistics are in demand. In fact, healthcare stakeholders craving reform are more ravenous than ever for objective-truly objective-data on spending, coverage and policies.

In the early 1990s when foundation work typically centered on financial grants, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a private nonprofit organization, recognized the rising demand for data, and in a relatively risky move, redefined its role to become an independent, unbiased supplier of facts about healthcare and policy. The strategy was unorthodox. Essentially, KFF's "gift" to healthcare is information-a gift that has increased in value over the past two decades.

KFF has been considered renegade by virtue of being involved with public policy in an objective role, according to Altman. Even now, its approach brings criticism from time to time because being objective does not always mean being optimistic.

Among KFF's many projects, for example, is the Medicare Health and Prescription Drug Plan Tracker, which monitors changes in enrollment over time within counties, states and the nation. Among its fact sheets, audiences can find up-to-date statistics on sources of coverage for women, for example. One of its video podcasts-shot recently in KFF's studio in Washington, D.C.-discusses the pros and cons of coverage mandates and what either situation would mean for the country. And these are just a few examples of the topics KFF presents on a daily basis.

While not all MCOs are directly familiar with KFF, many have accessed its materials through other sources, such as mainstream media, Congressional reports and white papers. It's a source that frequently comes across the desks of executives.

"For years, I have relied on the Kaiser Family Foundation reports as a source of comprehensive and objective information," says Don Hall, principal of Delta-Sigma LLC, and former health plan CEO. "There are few sources one can go to that offer information in such an objective and thoughtful manner, particularly regarding Medicare and Medicaid."