A top federal health care regulator says he thinks typical consumers care more about low health insurance premiums than thick provider directories.

Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), talked about how he sees the health insurance market at a conference with health insurers, at an undisclosed location, earlier this month.

“Consumers are saying loudly and most clearly that affordability matters more to them than it does when they select a plan through an employer, and is the most important concern,” Slavitt said, according to a written version of his remarks posted on the CMS website.

“So if consumers want savings, what are they willing to compromise on?” Slavitt asked. “According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, consumers would much prefer a narrower network to a higher deductible or higher premium.”

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Consumers’ willingness to accept narrower networks could open the door to new types of provider contracting and network design strategies, Slavitt said.

Slavitt said insurers may also have to come up with new strategies for keeping to the enrollees attract.

Slavitt cited the Ambetters plans, from St. Louis-based Centene, as an example of a carrier with an interesting enrollee retention program.

An Ambetter plan “offers a loyalty account to consumers and deposits money for consumers to use towards deductibles, coinsurance, and other health care spending,” Slavitt said.

CMS, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, organized the conference to reach out to insurers that have sold, or might sell, health coverage through the Affordable Care Act public exchange system.

CMS is the parent of the agency that oversees the state-based ACA exchanges. The same agency runs HealthCare.gov, a federal exchange enrollment and administration system set up for states that are unwilling or unable to run their own exchange enrollment and administration systems.

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