Background: In 1995 the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research began a five-year project, Consumer Assessment of Health Plans (CAHPS), to create instruments to collect data from consumers about their health care experiences, to develop sophisticated methods to convey these data to consumers, and to evaluate the value of these data to consumers who are selecting health plans. Results were obtained from one of the first CAHPS demonstration sites, the Washington State Health Care Authority.
Methods: The survey was distributed in May-June 1997 to 15,885 enrollees in 20 health plans; 8,204 (51.6%) surveys were completed. Survey results were summarized in a report that described the performance of plans, which was distributed to 97,000 enrollees, and reactions to the report were obtained from more than 1,500 individuals.
Results: Nearly everyone who was mailed the report said they saw it. A large proportion said they read most or all of it, and most thought the report was easy to understand, contained information needed to rate plans, and was helpful to learning about differences between plans. Those who used the CAHPS performance report were more likely to switch plans and to report that they were confident they had selected the best plan for their situation.
Discussion: The study was unique in that it attempted to evaluate whether employees read the performance report, how they reacted to it, and whether reading it influenced their decision to switch plans or their confidence that they had selected a suitable plan. Choosing a new plan probably stimulated more intense scrutiny of the report than not anticipating switching.