In the know

As worries about the affordability and availability of quality health care increase, 92 percent of Americans say it is important to be more informed as health care consumers, according to a new workplace survey.

But the survey also indicates most people are unaware of the latest health services and resources available from many health plans. That knowledge gap is causing Americans to leave many of these services — services that strong majorities, when polled, say they want — unused.

“Closing the Knowledge Gap: American Health Consumers Speak Out,” was commissioned by CIGNA HealthCare. It surveyed opinions from a random sample of 750 employees enrolled in employer-based health plans around the country.

Although they ranked decisions about their health care coverage as critical, well over one-third admitted they lack the information or understanding they need to make the best choice; 31 percent have doubts they would make the right choice; and 11 percent are convinced they would make a poor choice.

In addition, 80 percent said they would find the following services important in selecting a health plan, but more than half didn’t know these services exist.

* 24-hour phone access to nurses to answer questions about everything from a child’s persistent cough to a husband’s mild chest pains

Nurse case managers to assist with post-operative care, claims filings, finding additional financial resources or support for people dealing with major illness

* Discounts on health, fitness and wellness services, such as smoking cessation, laser eye surgery, cosmetic dentistry and massage therapy

* Personalized online health resources to help people learn more about health issues or better handle claims and benefits management

* Disease management programs to help people better manage chronic conditions, including heart disease, asthma and lower back pain

Surprisingly, the need to close the knowledge gap is stronger among younger workers. For example:

* 32 percent of baby boomers consider themselves to be “very informed” health care consumers, compared to 16 percent of Generation Y workers.

* 74 percent of baby boomers say they are satisfied with their health care coverage, compared to 44 percent of Generation Y workers.

Workers want to become more informed and more engaged in decisions about their health care and coverage, and they are looking to their employers and health plans for assistance. Young people just entering the workplace are a particularly significant audience because the health decisions they make today may determine if they spend their later years healthy and fit or dealing with chronic illness. Gregory C. Donnelly ([email protected]) is vice president, sales manager, sales division of Cigna HealthCare. CIGNA HealthCare is one of the nation’s leading providers of health-benefit programs, with managed care networks serving 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. CIGNA HealthCare provides medical coverage through managed care and indemnity programs to more than 13.3 million people, including more than 250,000 in major Ohio markets. Reach Donnelly at (216) 642-2573.