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Release: Immediate

UI Public Policy Center to develop health plan consumer assessment tool

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Three projects under way at the University of Iowa Public Policy Center will develop and distribute consumer satisfaction guides comparing a variety of health care plans in the state. Data for the first such scorecard has been gathered and will be distributed to state employees in Polk County this fall.

"These projects are designed to provide consumers with ways of comparing health care plans that go beyond simply comparing costs," said Peter Damiano, D.D.S., director of health policy research at the Public Policy Center and associate professor in the UI College of Dentistry. "We have gathered a variety of information about the overall level of consumer satisfaction with each of eight care plans offered to state employees in Polk County."

The consumer guides contain data gathered by the UI policy center from 4,450 surveys and interviews conducted since last February. Among the areas compared are length of waits to see a doctor, the efficiency and helpfulness of the health care providers, the courtesy and respect shown to patients, their satisfaction with the level of care provided, their comfort level with their doctor and other measures of consumer satisfaction.

"This is a work in progress," Damiano said. "We will continue to survey these people so we can update these consumer guides yearly and determine how effectively consumers use this information."

In addition to the state employees in Polk County, the UI researchers are also examining Medicaid patients in the state to determine their satisfaction with the health plans currently offered in Iowa. A third part of the project will look at consumer satisfaction with health care plans offered to employees of large private sector employers in the Des Moines area.

The policy center is collaborating in Iowa with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the RAND Corporation to implement some of the first-in-the-nation demonstrations of what are called Consumer Assessment of Health Plans (CAHPS).

Damiano and the other members of the UI PPC team -- Betsy Momany, research scientist, and Jean Willard, research associate -- collaborated with the Iowa Department of Personnel, the Iowa Department of Human Services, and the Community Health Purchasing Corporation on the CAHPS projects.

Damiano said the consumer guides are based on models developed at Harvard University, at the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, and at the RAND Corporation.

According to Charles A. Darby, CAHPS project officer, the project will play an important role nationally in helping provide consumers with information to help them make informed health care purchasing decisions.

"The demonstration and evaluation phase of the project, in which the UI Public Policy Center is a critical participant, is pivotal to determining how to refine and improve the CAHPS products and to assess their impact on consumers as they make health plan choices," Darby said.