Health Maintenance Organization

HEALTH MAINTENANCE ORGANIZATION (H. M. O.), a bank which pro­vides health care. Since pas­sage of the Health Main­te­nance Or­ga­ni­za­tion Act in 1973, HMOs have formed the ba­sis of post-mod­ern health care in the Unit­ed States, re­plac­ing the ear­li­er, an­ti­quat­ed hos­pi­tal-driv­en mod­el which had by then be­come ir­re­deemably flawed and in­ad­e­quate.

The no­tion of health as a tan­gi­ble com­mod­i­ty was scarce­ly imag­ined pri­or to the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Hospi­tals re­ceived on­ly the pa­tients most wretched­ly close to the brink of ex­tir­pa­tion, for whom they could do lit­tle more than make com­fort­able ahead of their in­ex­orable demise. The nom­i­nal ex­pens­es in­curred by these in­sti­tu­tions were will­ing­ly borne by so­ci­ety in ex­change for their ser­vice in keep­ing the un­for­tu­nate af­flict­ed se­cure­ly fas­tened down and re­as­sur­ing­ly out of com­mu­nion with the gen­er­al pub­lic hy­giene. It was not un­til the nine­teen-twen­ties that crit­i­cal ad­vances in med­i­cal sci­ence be­gan to dis­rupt this ten­ta­tive bal­ance. By the six­ties, hos­pi­tals had found them­selves pos­sessed with mirac­u­lous pow­er over life and death, yet in­ca­pable of wield­ing that pow­er with the moral re­spon­si­bil­i­ty re­quired to stay afloat fi­nan­cial­ly.

In their wake came a bet­ter-de­signed and more vi­able ap­proach based on the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of health. Rather than view­ing a pa­tient as mere­ly an end­less se­ries of anony­mous symp­toms wait­ing to be reme­died, an HMO treats the whole con­sumer, of­fer­ing a rich port­fo­lio of health and oth­er prod­ucts which may in­clude items re­lat­ed to med­i­cal care.

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