Mental Health and Selection of Preferred Providers

Experience in Three Employee Groups

Published In: Medical Care, v. 29, no. 9, Sep. 1991, p. 911-924

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1991

by Kenneth B. Wells, M. Susan Marquis, Susan D. Hosek

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While Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) are designed to contain the costs of health care, they may not be able to do so if sicker individuals opt not to use PPO providers. This study examined how level of mental health status and prior use of mental health services affected the decision to use or not use PPO providers for mental health care for employees enrolled in fee-for-service plans with a PPO option. Data were obtained from an employee survey and claims data on three large employee groups. It was not possible to examine effects of sickliness on the intent to select PPO providers for mental health care directly because about one half of employees could not identify who they would visit for mental health care or even how they would select a provider for such care. The intent to use PPO or non-PPO providers for general medical care, however, was not significantly associated with mental health status when other factors were controlled. Furthermore, among persons who used mental health services after implementation of the PPO option, those who had previously visited providers who were to become part of the PPO panel tended to stay with PPO providers, while those who previously visited providers who were not to enter the PPO panel subsequently selected away from PPO providers for mental health care. This pattern of results suggests that established individual patient-provider relationships, rather than sickliness, determined the selection of PPO versus non-PPO providers for mental health care for employees enrolled in these optional PPO fee-for-service plans.

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