Surveys Examine Consumer Opinions on Priority of Health Care Issues, HMO Cost-Control Practices
Four consecutive years of increased health care costs have prompted U.S. consumers to prioritize the issue as "one of the top items on the domestic agenda" and have "driven" them to accept more "managed care practices designed to hold down costs," according to two studies released on Wednesday, the Hartford Courant reports.
According to a post-election survey of consumers commissioned by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, 40% of respondents said that increased health care costs and prescription drug prices should serve as legislative priorities for the new Congress, compared with 41% cited who the economy and jobs as a priority. In addition, the survey found that 64% of respondents said their out-of-pocket health costs have risen over the past year, with an average increase of about 27%.
Glen Bolger, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the survey, said that the results indicate health care reform will remain "at the top of the pop charts" among domestic issues.
However, Geoffrey Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which also helped conduct the survey, said, "People know there are no simple solutions" to the issue of increased health care costs.
Scott Serota, president of BCBSA, said that the survey indicates health insurers, lawmakers and the president should make the issue their "No. 1 objective."
A separate survey of 2,024 U.S. residents, commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation and published in the journal Health Affairs, found that many respondents accept HMO cost-control practices, "including using a gatekeeper for referrals to specialists, substituting less expensive drugs and obtaining prior approval for new or expensive services," the Courant reports.
According to the survey, 54% of respondents supported the required use of less-expensive medications to help control health care costs, and 52% supported required specialist referrals. In addition, 43% of respondents said that they would consider required prior approval before patients could receive coverage for new or expensive procedures, the survey found. The survey also found that 30% of respondents supported increased payments to physicians who help control health care costs.
Claudia Schur, a researcher at the National Opinion Research Center, which conducted the survey, said, "The managed care backlash is easing up, probably because consumers are feeling the pinch of rising costs." Schur added that employers are more likely to offer health plans with more limited coverage. "In general, medical (cost) management tactics previously applied to the population in a one-size-fits-all approach are increasingly tailored to segments of the population," Schur said, adding, "Such tailoring may reduce resistance to even the most tightly managed products, at least among some groups. ... We may see more (health) plan offerings where consumers who want choice can pay for it, while those willing to accept limits on their care can pay less."
Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, said, "I do think (the poll) reflects something we've always known -- that patients, when making decisions for themselves, are balancing access and cost containment" (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 11/11).