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Purchasers Still Not Focused On Quality, Says Business Group

It's a common lament that all but the biggest companies buy health benefits primarily on the basis of price, not quality. New findings by the Washington Business Group on Health back up that assertion — eveneven though employers admit that they know better.

Only a third of 360 employers who responded to a WBGH survey routinely get quality-of-care data on plans with which they contract. But what purchasers do and what they know they should do are two different things: 88 percent rated quality as the most important factor in choosing health plans. This professed ideal doesn't square with plans' opinions of their clients, as only 46 percent of HMO executives view quality as employers' top concern. Nearly 100 health plans were included in the survey, as were more than 350 providers.

Among providers, just 22 percent send outcomes data to payers. It can be argued that this part of the feedback loop is the missing link that prevents a holistic approach to quality improvement and is what fuels calls for accrediting bodies to sharpen quality evaluation at the provider level.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance is moving health care closer to that goal. NCQA has received a Commonwealth Fund grant to examine consumer information needs, the aim being to use the findings to develop consumer-friendly measures of physician and physician-group quality. NCQA has said it would like to measure quality at the physician level — the level at which most people feel a connection to the health care system.

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