A survey of American consumers by Deloitte has found that 60% of respondents want increased online access to their healthcare providers, medical records and test results, but experts are not in agreement on how such access would affect health insurance premiums.
The “2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers”–a poll of more than 3,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 75–also found that 1 in 4 consumers would pay more to physicians for such technology services, says Washington, D.C.-based Deloitte. In addition, 46% of respondents are interested in keeping an online or software-based computer health record.
“This would definitely make the value chain more efficient in health insurance,” states Matthew Josefowicz, director, insurance, at New York-based Novarica, an industry consulting firm. “Whether it would lower premiums is another question, since it wouldn’t necessarily address the cost of care. But it might improve margins.”
Asked if these new efficiencies in the value chain would enable insurers to save money by reducing or reassigning staff–which could mean savings for consumers–he concedes that “certainly, they should be able to become more efficient.
“But whether those savings outpace the growth in the cost of services, or whether they are passed on to the consumer is another question,” he adds.
According to Craig Weber, senior vice president at Celent, another consultant firm based in Boston, “I agree there are cost implications for insurers, and any movement towards electronic records will provide welcome relief in terms of costs.
“Customers should see some benefit if carriers are able to reduce costs,” he continues. “However, expense pressures on carriers have never been higher. Metaphorically speaking, carriers that find change under their couch cushions will be sorely tempted to put it in their pockets, rather than doling it back out to customers.”
Who’s in charge?
Bob Barry, senior vice president of product and market strategy for Connecture, based in Waukesha, Wis., calls giving consumers access to personal health records “an improvement in the healthcare industry.” Connecture focuses on delivering Web-based sales, service, and process automation solutions to the health insurance industry.
“In terms of affecting health insurance issuance, it depends on how often the record is updated,” he explains. “Who has the control; what goes into it and when?”
Barry points out that, “If the person has been diagnosed with a significant condition, but that information hasn’t been entered in the health record yet, and the consumer is shopping for a new health plan, then the carrier cannot solely rely on the health record for assessing the risk.
“I’m not sure that there will be tremendous cost savings,” he adds. He points to potential administrative cost savings in the underwriting process, “but really it would be another data access point, much like carriers that utilize pharmaceutical history in the underwriting process today, and I don’t know that the savings will be that significant.”