"Consumers: We Want Choice" By Eric H. Schultz

Like many consumer-driven organizations, we do market research periodically to be sure we’re listening to consumers in a way that produces reliable and actionable information. But a recent consumer survey done by Fallon Community Health Plan provides some data that might help inform ongoing policy deliberations about the implementation of health care reform.

The bottom line: Consumers believe in choice.

They want the ability to choose in making health insurance decisions. They want lifestyle choices to be factored into health insurance costs. And they want more information so they can make informed choices.

The scientific survey, done by RKM Research and Communications, polled 605 consumers between the ages of 18 and 64 across FCHP’s Massachusetts service area from April 24 to May 7. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Here are some highlights:

- Nearly two out of three consumers (62 percent) believe that health insurance premiums should be higher for people who make unhealthy lifestyle choices.
- Specifically, 65 percent think that smokers should pay more.
- A plurality of consumers — 48 percent versus 41 percent — say their health care decisions — such as choosing a procedure, a doctor or a hospital — would be different if they had more information about those services among different providers.
- The survey also found strong support among low-income consumers for a less expensive health plan with a limited provider network — something that Fallon Community Health Plan offers and that I have been pushing the Connector to make more available. Among people who make $30,000 or less, a whopping 72 percent say they would choose a limited network of high-performing doctors and hospitals if they could save 8 to 10 percent (our "Direct Care" option actually provides a 13 percent savings). Not surprisingly, there was less support for such an option among people who make more than $100,000. But its support from low-income people is particularly relevant in light of the individual mandate in the Health Care Reform Law requiring everyone to have insurance.

Individual choice, financial responsibility for one's own choices, information to make better choices — these are all sound principles that we now know have support among consumers. Everyone involved in health care and health care policy should listen.

Eric H. Schultz is the President and CEO of Fallon Community Health Plan.

This program aired on May 30, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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