Health and financial security What's Buzzing

For good reason, public not focused on health plan quality and price information

Written by Diane Archer

A new Kaiser poll shows that Americans are not focused on health plan quality and price information when making health care choices. Only a tiny fraction of Americans say that they use this information to make health care choices.  In fact, this data really should not be driving people’s health care decisions. Most available price and quality data is not yet ripe for meaningful use.

Ideally, people would be able to know whether particular doctors and hospitals were delivering value (good quality at a good price) and which health insurance plan would deliver them the health and financial security they need, with good access and predictable costs.  But, a public plan, like Medicare, with open access to doctors and hospitals and predictable costs, is not available to them through the health care marketplace.  And, data that adds value in choosing doctors is limited even for people with Medicare. It’s often unavailable. Indeed, few Americans–less than 20 percent–say they have seen comparative information about doctors, hospitals and health plans.

Even when price and quality information is available, there’s no evidence it’s reliable or comprehensive enough to tell you which hospital and which team of doctors will best meet your needs. To quote Drew Altman, President of the Kaiser Family Foundation, “pretty much everyone in the health-care sector agrees that the  ”state of the art” in the development of rigorous and reliable quality and price information has a long way to go.” This all said, it’s still important to take time to choose your doctors, hospitals and other care providers. Read more here about how to choose a doctorhere about how to choose a good hospital and here about how nursing home ratings can be misleading.

Unlike quality information, which is in its infancy and largely unreliable, price information can be trusted and should be available. But prices for doctor and hospital services tend to be hard if not possible to learn.  Almost two-thirds of survey respondents (64 percent) said it was difficult to find out the costs of medical services.  In fairness doctors sometimes don’t know exactly which services they will be performing in advance of treating patients. But, unlike Medicare, health plans do not offer predictable out-of-pocket costs that allow people to budget for their care.  In many cases, rates insurers negotiate with doctors and hospitals are considered trade secrets.

What’s the solution? Providing everyone in America with the choice of a public health insurance plan like Medicare that reins in prices and offers predictable costs and easy access to doctors and hospitals would help ensure people’s health and financial security. And, for now, choosing your doctors and other care providers as wisely as possible. Time will tell whether reliable quality information will ever be available.

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