Once again there’s something very important in a WSJ/Harris poll which concentrates on the people that, when I was at Harris, were called the "Trade up players". These are the people with enough discretionary income to buy themselves a better class of service from their providers. As I know many of you don’t have WSJ access, I’ve quoted most all of the results.
"Do you have health insurance? It could be from an employer, that you purchase yourself or from a government program like Medicare or Medicaid?"
Base: All Adults
* * *
"Which one of these statements best describes you?"
Base: Adults with health insurance
* * *
"Whether or not you have done so in the past, how willing would you be to go to a doctor who doesn’t take your health insurance if he or she was highly recommended by a source that you trust?"
"How willing would you be to pay the full cost of a doctor’s visit – rather than use your health insurance – if you . . .?"
The important issue is that pretty uniformly, those with incomes over 50K, which is a little over average household income and around US median income, are willing to spend more money to get a better class of service. Obviously this means a couple of things
a) If you are marketing a health care service to wealthier Americans there is a willingness to pay for it. Of course that’s a well known fact to chiropractors, orthodontists, and cosmetic surgeons. But it might mean that other physicians and providers might start to think about providing better access and customer service, for a small fee (and I don’t mean insisting on $20,000 for concierge service). This is the Nordstroms approach, and one that health care providers should be thinking about emulating (and one that some are).
b) This willingness to pay is a minority effect — it’s a big minority and may be a majority in the case of referrals from someone the patient trusts. But for most of these services more people are unwilling to pay extra, and of course large majorities of those with lower incomes, even those with health insurance, do not want to pay extra.
This tells me that continued bifurcation is likely to be the case when people seek health services that they have to pay out of pocket for, with roughly double the number who want to "trade up" skimping on "extras". Why does this matter? Because in our brave new consumer world, cash may be an increasingly important way that patients pay for health care, especially for "minor" care out of their HSAs. So this correlates with much other data about user fees at the point of care–they tend to prevent lower income people from getting care (including often needed care).
Like it or not, we are slowly heading towards this future. Unless, that is, you live in Rochester New York.
Meanwhile, (and this is a bit of a throwaway for Ron) the Kaiser Network Health Policy Report notes that the CBO is out with a study showing that "Uninsured workers are unlikely to purchase individual health insurance, regardless of whether they receive tax credits or other subsidies to help cover the cost of premiums, according to a report released on Friday by the Congressional Budget Office". Proving to my mind once again that high deductible health plans are not going to solve the uninsurance problem and that voluntary universal health care is a myth.