For More Information, Call:
Elizabeth Barrett (202) 789-3606
I have been invited here today to represent the views of the health care consumer, an admittedly difficult assignment. While our coalition represents diverse consumer interests, we focus particular attention on the health and welfare of vulnerable populations. Just as we should judge any society by its compassion and treatment of the poor, our coalition believes an important measure of any health care system and, in today's context, any health care plan, must be service and treatment of at-risk populations - the chronically ill, individuals with rare diseases, the disabled, the frail elderly, the poor.
I want to make three brief comments about NCQA's Quality Compass from the point of view of the consumer. First, Quality Compass, is a milestone in introducing informed consumer choice to the marketplace. For far too long, consumers have lacked comparative, quality-based information on health plan performance. Price competition has prevailed with potentially negative consequences for patient care as plans squeeze investments in quality assurance and improvement activities, reduce staffing levels and shift financial risk to network providers to stay price competitive.
Quality Compass holds the promise of moving us towards a marketplace in which plan competition is based on the ability to produce ever improving quality, benefiting all consumers in the process. While other important quality assurance mechanisms will be needed as the marketplace matures, Quality Compass is an important step in the right direction of informed choice and quality-based competition.
Second, we must not let the perfect get in the way of the good. Naysayers will counsel that Quality Compass and other consumer reports to follow are not ready for prime time. Certainly, consumers must understand the limitations of quality measures. But the complexities of outcome measurement, risk adjustment, data validation, and a dynamic and evolving medical knowledge base must not be used as an excuse to keep quality-based information and data in the closet. Indeed, public release of performance information will create its own incentives and momentum to improve quality measures over time. Public disclosure will also help send a strong signal to health care plans that quality performance is a critical predictor of future success thus encouraging plan investments in quality improvement.
Finally, the challenge ahead extends beyond quality measurement to the dissemination of quality-based information to individual consumers. Multiple strategies must be developed to educate and train the public to use performance based information in plan selection. This task will not be easy and a commitment to development and research is necessary. Employers and union sponsors have a special role to play in both expanding employee choice and ensuring that the choice of plan is informed through the sharing of quality-based information, like Quality Compass.
On behalf of the Consumer Coalition, I also urge the press to use it powerful channels of communication to inform the general public about Quality Compass information and how it can be used to evaluate plans for selection.
In closing, let me take this opportunity to applaud the NCQA Board and executive leadership for its commitment to informed choice. Quality Compass holds the promise of becoming an important tool in guiding consumer selection of health care plans and moving us closer to the ultimate goal of holding all plans accountable for maintaining and improving the health status of their enrolled populations.
The Consumer Coalition for Quality Health Care is a national, non-profit membership organization of consumer groups dedicated to protecting and improving the quality of health care for all Americans. To fulfill its mission, the Consumer Coalition advocates for consumer protection and quality improvement programs and policies in the public and private sectors.
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