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ST. PAUL, Minn.-Enrollment in health maintenance organizations-the least expensive health care delivery system-is increasing at a double-digit rate.

From Jan. 1, 1994, to Jan. 1, 1995, enrollment in the nation's 562 HMOs rose 12.8%, climbing to 50.9 million from 45.1 million, according to InterStudy, a St. Paul, Minn.-based managed care research organization.

HMO enrollment grew in all parts of the country, with the highest increase-27.8%-in the eastern south central states: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, an area where managed care has been slow to develop until recently.

Enrollment also increased by more than 20% in the western south central states-Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas-as well as in the southern Atlantic states, which include Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Nationally, 17.6% of the population at the beginning of 1995 was enrolled in so-called pure HMOs, those that, for example, do not offer beneficiaries the opportunity to receive services outside the HMO's panel of providers.

Of that enrollment, the Pacific states-Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington-had the highest percentage of their population enrolled in pure HMOs: 32.1%. The Northeast, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, had the second highest percentage of population in HMOs: 24.1%.

While HMO enrollment is rapidly growing in the eastern central states, just 8.3% of those states' population is enrolled in HMOs.

Copies of HMO enrollment statistics are published in the InterStudy Competitive Edge, Part II, Industry Report, 5.2.

The publication is available through InterStudy, P.O. Box 4366, St. Paul, Minn. 55104. The cost is $150 and prepayment is requested.