U.S. consumers may have been less satisfied with their health plans in 2006 than they have been since 2002, but the apparent drop may be due to a survey change.
Researchers at the National Committee for Quality Assurance, Washington, have published the 2006 plan member satisfaction figures and many other 2006 health plan performance statistics in their latest health plan quality report.
The NCQA bases the results on data from the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set care quality survey program and the Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems member satisfaction survey program.
This year, changes in the member satisfaction survey and in the definitions for many important quality indicators, such as the indicator for breast cancer screening rates, make 2006 results hard to compare with earlier results, NCQA officials say.
The new version of the commercial plan member satisfaction survey has a different number of core items, and the wording of some returning items has changed.
Medicare program administrators have not yet released any satisfaction data for Medicare Advantage plans, NCQA officials say. It is possible that the characteristics of participating Medicare Advantage plans have changed in ways that affect comparisons of 2006 care quality data with prior-year data even when the indicators themselves have remained the same.
But the raw satisfaction figures for participating commercial plans show that only 73.6% of members gave their plans a rating of 8 or higher on a 10-point scale in 2006, down from 78% in 2005, according to the authors of the NCQA assessment.
The percentage of participating Medicaid plan members giving plans a rating of 8 or higher fell to 65.6%, from 72.8%.
Participating commercial plans reported improvements in 30 of 44 care quality indicators, and Medicaid plans reported improvements in 34 of 43 quality indicators.