Kaiser health plans provide health care services through health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, selling pre-paid health care plans to individuals, families, employees and employers, as detailed on the Kaiser Permanente website. They work exclusively with hospitals owned by the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group. They operate primarily in California and Oregon, where they are the largest health maintenance organization.
Kaiser Permanente is a nonprofit organization that takes up-front payments from members and invests it in Kaiser Permanente Medical Group hospitals, which are for-profit and owned by physicians, as explained in a profile of the company by McKinsey & Company. The physicians then become stockholders after three years of employment. This structure originally developed as health insurance for the workers of the Kaiser industrial conglomerate, but is now completely independent of that company.
Kaiser Permanente cites an advantage for their members being the ease of booking appointments online and making consultations over the phone, as well as meeting a physician with the patient's full medical history readily available through their information system. The company also points out the convenience of searching online for a doctor with a fitting profile.
Some patients criticize Kaiser for the use of mandatory arbitration in disputes with members, rather than using litigation in court, according to The New York Times. Some claim this unfairly favors the company and that arbitrators are not neutral and independent. Critics also accuse Kaiser of sometimes offering poor service and having long waiting times.