Employers are the most common source of information about health plan choices, says a new study of more than 900 workers in Minnesota. The study suggests that, despite conventional wisdom, many workers rely on and trust information such as health-plan performance "report cards" provided by their employers.
The research involved telephone surveys with 927 employees of 19 firms that participated in the Buyers Health Care Action Group (BHCAG). BHCAG is a purchasing coalition of 26 large, self-insured employers in Minneapolis. Since 1997, BHCAG has offered health care coverage through contracts with 15 distinct health-care provider systems in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
"The study results tell us that BHCAG workers rely on their employers for information about health plans," said lead author Roger Feldman, PhD, of the University of Minnesota Division of Health Services Research and Policy. "We also learned that the employee's trust in employer information is directly related to the employee's tenure with the firm and to the employer's use of internal communication tools."
During the member firms' open-enrollment periods, BHCAG offers information to help employees compare the care systems and their participating providers. All employers distribute a standardized "report card" developed by the coalition to inform workers about employee-reported satisfaction and perceived care-system quality. Information about the care systems also is disseminated through company newsletters, e-mail, websites, kiosks, educational sessions, and visits from care-system representatives.
Seventy-six percent of the workers surveyed said they used information from their employers to choose a health plan. Fifty percent said they gained information from previous experience with doctors or hospitals in the care systems, and 33 percent said that friends, relatives, or co-workers were a source of information. Care-system advertisements (13 percent) and talking to a physician or other health professional (8 percent) were cited least often as sources of information. Of the employees who used employer information and recalled seeing the report card, 59 percent said they found the report card helpful in choosing a care system.
The study, published in the April issue of The Milbank Quarterly, involved randomly selected employees who had individual health coverage. Sixty-five percent of the respondents were women, the average age was 37 years, and the average tenure with their employers was eight years.
The research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Milbank Quarterly is a journal of public health and health care policy published by the Milbank Memorial Fund. For information about the journal contact Paul D. Cleary, firstname.lastname@example.org.