Can High Quality Overcome Consumer Resistance to Restricted Provider Access?

Evidence from a Health Plan Choice Experiment

Published in: Health Services Research, v. 37, no. 3, June 2002, p. 551-571

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2002

by Katherine M. Harris

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OBJECTIVE: To investigate the impact of quality information on the willingness of consumers to enroll in health plans that restrict provider access. DATA SOURCES AND SETTING: A survey administered to respondents between the ages of 25 and 64 in the West Los Angeles area with private health insurance. STUDY DESIGN: An experimental approach is used to measure the effect of variation in provider network features and information about the quality of network physicians on hypothetical plan choices. Conditional logit models are used to analyze the experimental choice data. Next, choice model parameter estimates are used to simulate the impact of changes in plan features on the market shares of competing health plans and to calculate the quality level required to make consumers indifferent to changes in provider access. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: The presence of quality information reduced the importance of provider network features in plan choices as hypothesized. However, there were not statistically meaningful differences by type of quality measure (i.e., consumer assessed versus expert assessed). The results imply that large quality differences are required to make consumers indifferent to changes in provider access. The impact of quality on plan choices depended more on the particular measure and less on the type of measure. Quality ratings based on the proportion of survey respondents extremely satisfied with results of care had the greatest impact on plan choice while the proportion of network doctors affiliated with university medical centers had the least. Other consumer and expert assessed measures had more comparable effects. CONCLUSIONS: Overall the results provide empirical evidence that consumers are willing to trade high quality for restrictions on provider access. This willingness to trade implies that relatively small plans that place restrictions on provider access can successfully compete against less restrictive plans when they can demonstrate high quality. However, the results of this study suggest that in many cases, the level of quality required for consumers to accept access restrictions may he so high as to be unattainable. The results provide empirical support for the current focus of decision support efforts on consumer assessed quality measures. At the same time, however, the results suggest that consumers would also value quality measures based on expert assessments. This finding is relevant given the lack of comparative quality information based on expert judgment and research suggesting that consumers have apprehensions about their ability to meaningfully interpret performance-based quality measures.

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