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Washington State employees find CAHPS® health plan assessments to be easy to understand and useful

Consumer Assessment of Health Plans (CAHPS®) comprises a collection of state-of-the-art instruments that can be used by employers and other purchasers of health care coverage to survey consumers about their experiences with their health insurance plans. Results from the surveys can be compiled and summarized in a report for use by enrollees to help them choose among plans. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality launched CAHPS® in 1995. In 1996, the Health Care Financing Administration adapted CAHPS® for use by Medicare enrollees.

In a recent study supported by AHRQ (HS09205), the CAHPS® survey was distributed to nearly 16,000 enrollees in 20 health plans offered to employees by the Washington State Public Employees Benefits Bureau. The survey was distributed to random samples of up to 600 adults enrolled in each of the plans; 8,204 surveys were completed. The survey included questions that measured 10 domains of health plan performance such as ease of getting needed care, care without a long wait, ease of finding a personal doctor, ability of doctors to communicate with patients and spend enough time with them, and ease of obtaining referrals to specialists.

Survey results were summarized in a report that described the types of health plans available, rated their performance, and compared the performance of each plan relative to the other plans. The report included a worksheet for each employee to identify the plans that scored well on domains most important to him or her and to assess the benefits and coverage offered by each plan, the cost of the plan, and the availability of providers and their locations.

The report was distributed to 97,000 households, and reactions to the report were obtained from more than 1,500 people. More than three-quarters of those who were mailed the report said they saw it. A large proportion said they read most or all of it, and most thought it was easy to understand, contained information needed to rate plans, and helped them to learn about the differences between plans. Employees who used the CAHPS® performance report were more likely than those who did not to switch plans and to report that they were confident they had selected the best plan for their situation.

More details are in "Providing consumers with information about the quality of health plans: The Consumer Assessment of Health Plans demonstration in Washington State," by Edward Guadagnoli, Ph.D., Arnold M. Epstein, M.D., Alan Zaslavsky, Ph.D., and others, in the July 2000 Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement 26(7), pp. 410-420.

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