Statement of the Right Consumers have the right to a choice of health care providers that is sufficient to ensure access to appropriate high-quality health care.
To ensure such choice, health plans should provide the following:
Access to Qualified Specialists for Women's Health Services: Women should be able to choose a qualified provider offered by a plan -- such as gynecologists, certified nurse midwives, and other qualified health care providers -- for the provision of covered care necessary to provide routine and preventative women's health care services.
Access to Specialists: Consumers with complex or serious medical conditions who require frequent specialty care should have direct access to a qualified specialist of their choice within a plan's network of providers. Authorizations, when required, should be for an adequate number of direct access visits under an approved treatment plan.
Transitional Care: Consumers who are undergoing a course of treatment for a chronic or disabling condition (or who are in the second or third trimester of a pregnancy) at the time they involuntarily change health plans or at a time when a provider is terminated by a plan for other than cause should be able to continue seeing their current specialty providers for up to 90 days (or through completion of postpartum care) to allow for transition of care. Providers who continue to treat such patients must accept the plan's rates as payment in full, provide all necessary information to the plan for quality assurance purposes, and promptly transfer all medical records with patient authorization during the transition period.
Public and private group purchasers should, wherever feasible, offer consumers a choice of high-quality health insurance products. Small employers should be provided with greater assistance in offering their workers and their families a choice of health plans and products.
Thus, a health care marketplace that promotes satisfied consumers, continuity of care, and continuous improvements in quality requires that an array of choices be available to consumers. Without consumers' ability to have and exercise choice, greater activities may need to be undertaken by group purchasers and regulators to ensure that the health care marketplace responds appropriately to consumers' health care needs.
At the same time, there has been a steady migration from traditional indemnity plans to various managed care products in both the public and private markets. Between 1991 and 1995, the percentage of American workers enrolled in indemnity plans decreased from 59 percent to 35 percent (EBRI, 1997). In 1997, more than 5 million Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in 336 managed care plans, an increase of more than 100 percent since 1993. Under Medicaid, 13 million, or 35 percent, of all beneficiaries have been enrolled in managed care plans, an increase of more than 170 percent since 1993. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 will increase those trends by expanding the types of products available to beneficiaries of those two public programs.
Although there is greater choice of health insurance products available in most markets, it is important to note that this choice often is exercised at the level of the group purchaser instead of by individual consumers. Between 1988 and 1997, health plan offerings by moderate- and large-sized employers declined (Gabel, 1997). Those offering three or more plans declined from 35 percent to 32 percent, while those offering only one plan climbed from 41 percent to 44 percent over that period. Notably, the percentage of employees in firms with 200 or more workers who were offered coverage of PPOs and POS plans increased from 12 percent in 1988 to 58 percent in 1997 (Gabel, 1997).
There also is evidence of variation in consumer preferences for various product characteristics. In the Kaiser-AHCPR survey (1996), 70 percent of survey respondents would prefer a high-cost product with a wide range of benefits over a low-cost product with a more limited range of benefits (26 percent). Respondents were more divided over other health product decisions. Fifty-three percent said they would pay more for unrestricted choice of physicians, while 43 percent would opt for a lower-cost product that limited choice to a list of physicians. Forty-six percent would pay more to have direct access to any specialist, whereas more than half (51 percent) would choose a lower-cost plan that requires a visit to the family physician for a referral (Robinson and Brodie, 1997).
The Commission is troubled by the limited choice of insurance products made available to many consumers through their employer group purchasers. Some of the reduction in choice of plan and product has resulted from conscious decisions by employers to select high-quality products at the best price in the market. In other instances, employers may be seeking to minimize administrative costs associated with multiple offerings. Affording consumers greater choice of plans would allow consumers to select the product that best meets their individual preferences and would encourage health plans to be responsive to consumers' expressed needs. However, the Commission recognizes that, for many consumers, the availability of one plan is better than no plan at all.
The Commission was unable to achieve consensus on creating a "right" to a consumer choice of health plan or product but it is determined to find ways to encourage and assist employers and other group purchasers in providing consumers with a meaningful choice of health plans and products. Consumer choice of health plans is important and should be provided whenever possible and in a way that is affordable both to employers and consumers. In its final report, the Commission will address policy options to provide greater choice of health plans and products, including encouraging the development of purchasing coalitions and alliances to assist small employers who encounter the greatest difficulty in offering multiple options.
It also is clear that consumers value some degree of choice of physicians. The 1997 Kaiser/Commonwealth National Health Insurance Survey found that respondents with a choice of physicians registered the highest level of satisfaction with their plans (Davis and Schoen, 1997). A Kaiser-AHCPR survey of consumers identified four reasons why consumers prefer a greater choice of physicians and other health care professionals:
The most frequently cited reasons speak to consumers' desire to use choice of physicians as a way to obtain quality care. The third is directed toward maintaining relationships with physicians with whom consumers have an existing relationship. In other words, 63 percent of consumers surveyed wanted a choice of physicians so that they can develop and maintain a relationship with a physician they trust to provide them high-quality care.
Therefore, it is important for all health plans and products to maintain an adequate network of physicians and other health care providers, to provide for continuity of care when consumers change plans, and to allow consumers with special health care needs to have adequate choice of physicians and other health care providers. This can lead to higher consumer satisfaction with providers and their health plans without undermining the efforts of provider groups and health plans to develop organized delivery systems.
The Commission's recommendations seek to build on these trends toward providing greater choice by taking several steps to ensure (1) network adequacy; (2) greater access for women to qualified specialists for women's health services; (3) ease of access to specialists for consumers with complex and serious conditions; and (4) greater continuity of care for consumers who enroll in new health plans or see their provider dropped from a plan for other than cause.
Consumers will need to exercise their right to choice by using good judgment and providing direct feedback to plans about their level of satisfaction with the network provided for them.
Quality Oversight Organizations will need to incorporate network adequacy standards into their review activities.
Cowan, CA, Braden, BR, McDonnell, PA, et al. "Business, Households and Government: Health Spending, 1994." Health Care Finance Rev; Summer 1996; 17(4):157-178.
Davis K, Collins KS, Schoen C, et al. "Choice Matters: Enrollees' Views of Their Health Plans." Health Affairs; Summer 1995; 99-112.
Davis K, Schoen C. testimony before the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry; June 25, 1997.
Employee Benefits Research Institute. EBRI Databook on Employee Benefits, Washington DC, 1997.
Gabel JR (KPMG Peat Marwick LLP). testimony before the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry; June 23, 1997.
Kaiser Family Foundation and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR). Americans as Health Care Consumers: The Role of Quality Information. Princeton Survey Research Associates; October 1996.
KPMG Peat Marwick, Health Insurance Association of America. Sourcebook of Health Insurance Data. Washington, DC; 1996.
O'Malley AS, Mandelblatt J, Gold K, Cagney KA, Kerner J. "Continuity of Care and the Use of Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Services in a Multiethnic Community." Arch Intern Med 1997; 157(13):1462-70.
National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Managed Care Plan Network Adequacy Model Act. Model Regulation Service; October 1996.
Robinson S, Brodie M. "Understanding the Quality Challenge for Health Consumers: The Kaiser/AHCPR Survey." Journal on Quality Improvement, May 1997; 23(5):239-244.
Back to the Table of Contents