Patient Confidence in Nation’s Health Care System Grows ‘Slightly,’ Survey Says
Patient confidence in the nation's health care system "increased slightly" between 1997 and 2001, in part because of eased restrictions in managed care plans and new state patient protection laws, according to a report released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC release, 8/7). The report analyzed findings from the HSC Community Tracking Study Household Survey, which conducted three telephone interviews with about 60,000 privately insured Americans in 1996-1997, 1998-1999 and 2000-2001. The report found that 92.9% of survey participants in 2001 trusted their doctor to "put [their] medical needs above all other considerations," compared to 92.1% in 1999 and 91.6% in 1997. The attitudes of people enrolled in HMOs improved during the four-year period, with 92% of HMO members in 2001 saying they trusted their physician to put their needs first, compared to 90.7% in 1999, and 89.9% in 1997. (Reed/Trude, "Who Do You Trust? Americans' Perspectives on Health Care, 1997-2001," Aug. 2002). In addition, the report found that only 13.3% of survey respondents in 2001 thought their doctor would not refer them to a needed specialist, compared to 14% in 1999 and 14.3% in 1997 (CongressDaily, 8/7). HMO members were still more likely to believe that they would not be referred to a specialist than those in other plans.
The report also found that about half of people in poor or fair health -- who have more opportunity to experience problems with the system because they are more likely to use it frequently -- felt that health plans "strongly influence" their doctor's medical decision making, compared to 43% of people in good health. About 20% of people in poor or fair health thought their doctor would not refer them to a needed specialist, compared to 13% of people in good health (HSC release, 8/7). The percentage of survey respondents in poor or fair health who trusted their doctor remained static from 1997 to 2001, compared to an increase in satisfaction for respondents in good health ("Who Do You Trust? Americans' Perspectives on Health Care, 1997-2001," Aug. 2002).
HSC President Paul Ginsburg said that in response to patient dissatisfaction with HMOs in the mid-1990s, "many health plans have included more providers in their networks and eased restrictions on care, and consumers have noticed the changes." Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of the American Association of Health Plans, added, "Health plans are working hard to inform their members and the general public about the added value [they] bring to the health care system through ... innovative approaches that improve health care quality while ensuring access and affordability" (HSC release, 8/7). But Gail Shearer, director of health policy analysis at Consumers Union, said that the lack of improvement in the health care opinions of people in poor and fair health was a concern, adding, "What good is a health care system that works well only when you don't need it?" (CongressDaily, 8/7). Jack Ebeler, president of the Alliance of Community Health Plans said, "Marginal improvements in consumer confidence are not enough. ... Health plans and providers must demonstrate that the values that motivate their decisions reflect and support the health care values of the patients, families and communities that they serve" (HSC release, 8/7). The report is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.