EBRI Issue Brief
Issues of Quality and Consumer Rights in the Health Care Market
- This Issue Brief describes how the structure of the health care market has changed in the recent years. It outlines the growth in managed care and the changes in the types of managed care plans available. In addition, it discusses the issue of quality in the health care market. It also includes an overview of the legislative topics and issues relating to quality and consumer rights that policymakers are currently considering.
- Growth in national health expenditures, the medical care price index, and employer health care costs has slowed significantly since 1990. This decreased growth has coinsided with substantial increases in managed care plan enrollment. The percentage of employees enrolled in managed care plans increased from 48 percent to 85 percent from 1992 to 1997.
- Quality is a multidimensional concept. Although individuals may agree on its components, they may disagree on the relative importance of these components. Therefore, disagreement exists not only on how to measure quality but also on how it is defined. Consequently, policy decisions need to be based on an evaluation of a particular law's effect as opposed to its stated goal or intent. This distinction is important because a law that addresses access or consumer rights does not necessarily address the quality of care a consumer receives. Ultimately, whether an individual believes that a law truly addresses quality will depend in a large part on his or her subjective opinion of what quality entails.
- To date, comparison of the quality of managed care plans with that of fee-for-service plans has not produced results that uniformly differentiate between these two plan types in either a positive or a negative way. In addition, it is important to note that the current debate on the quality of care provided in the health care market is not new to the present managed care era.
- The regulations and mandates discussed in this report would not guarantee increased quality in the health care market, unless quality is defined as easier access for those with health insurance. However, if quality is defined as the success of the outcomes of health services provided, the effect of these regulations on quality is in need of further research. Yet, the regulations would have some impact on the costs of health benefits and insurance. This impact has been estimated to be relatively small to substantial, depending on the interpretation of the mandates and assumptions derived from that interpretation. Regardless of the magnitude of the estimated increases, some research has shown that these regulations could have serious implications for the likelihood of small businesses offering health benefits.
- While these health plan regulations' effect on quality depends on one's definition of quality, costs would increase regardless of the definition one uses. Consequently, these regulations would come at a price. Thus, legislators must decide between: (a) imposing regulation that would increase access and consumer "rights" for those with insurance but would be of questionable value to the quality of outcomes, and (b) allowing existing market forces to improve quality through experimentation and competitive forces.