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Study: U.S. Consumers Pay More Attention to Health Plan Details, Access to Imaging Important

Table

Table 1

Faced with spending their own money through higher deductibles and copayments, U.S. adults are paying more attention to the details of their healthcare plans and have identified access to advanced imaging as one of the plan features most important to them, according to an independent Harris Interactive poll.

Table 1

Factors that influence U.S. adults’ preferences and purchasing decisions related to healthcare coverage are shifting. More than ever before, Americans are paying increased attention to what plans provide.  The anticipated influx of individuals (who are by nature cost conscious buyers) entering the health insurance market through exchanges will significantly impact benefit plan design, plan selection and enrollment.  

The Bottom Line

Healthcare plan cost remains the top priority for U.S. adults.  (Table 1).   As U.S. adults are asked to bear a more significant share of the monthly healthcare plan premium, a larger piece of the household’s limited monthly budget is being reassigned to healthcare and away from more gratifying purchases or even basic necessities. The result is an increasingly cost conscious and, perhaps by default, better informed purchaser of healthcare plans and services.

The survey also asked which plan components besides costs, are valued the most by consumers and which components individuals may fear losing the most. With unrestricted access to all medical technologies (e.g. MRIs or CT scans) at the next highest position overall, the poll results indicate that U.S. adults consistently place a high value on access to advanced imaging modalities like CT and MRI. 

If this finding were published 10-15 years ago, the response might have been “so what,” since MRI and CT scans generally didn’t “cost” consumers anything at the time. But in today’s environment, this high ranking for access to advanced imaging is of particular note. Despite the increasingly higher out of pocket co-payments now required of policy holders, U.S. adults continue to place a high value on access to advanced imaging studies.  Though not specifically tracked in the study, Americans typically associate advanced imaging with better quality of care and fear lack of access due to indiscriminate cost cutting measures. Access to advanced imaging has become a benchmark by which Americans judge their own quality of care and comprehensiveness of their healthcare plans.

The patient/physician relationship is also of significant importance to consumers who are frequent users of healthcare services.  However, when stratified by insurance status, the requirement to keep the same physician falls off in the most price sensitive cells of individuals and the uninsured.  Presumably this group would also be the most likely to participate in the proposed healthcare plan exchanges.

What do these findings mean? For the radiologist, it means a renewed emphasis on relationships with the gatekeeper physician including rapid report turnaround, and a consultative relationship with the referring physician to ensure the right test at the right time.  For the consumer, the survey findings indicate that the medical and access issues of the patient may be more important than efforts that focus on other less critical elements of care such as availability of a spa-like atmosphere. 

Radiologists must continue to take an active role in conjunction with hospital administration in the development and operation of efficient and innovative imaging departments in order to attract patients.  Hospitals and providers who want to proactively align with the shifts in the market will recognize the value in offering ready access to cost-effective high quality advanced imaging services.  

 

Source: Harris Interactive Strategic Health Perspectives 2010 Consumer Survey.
The Harris Interactive survey was conducted online with 2,052 adults aged 18 to 64 between October 12, 2010 and November 1, 2010. Final results were weighted to the characteristics of the U.S. population. The study was an independent poll which was not financed by industry interests.