A Consumer-Centric Approach to Network Adequacy: Access to Five Specialties in California’s Marketplace
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
The objective of this research is to increase the relevance of network adequacy assessments to consumers. Our approach overcomes two important limitations of previous assessments. First, we harness geospatial information to gauge consumer access taking account of location. That is, we incorporate the distance between consumers and providers to assess network breadth. This approach improves the usefulness of information for consumers because it allows them to judge network breadth based on their residence, i.e. the place from which they are most likely to access health care services. Arguably, providers closer to home may be much more important than overall network breadth if many providers in broader networks are long distances away. Second, we confine the set of available providers to only those who are actively practicing and seeing patients for their respective specialties. We do so based on their inclusion in various quality reporting and all-payer-claims databases. This approach mimics the innovate network adequacy regulation developed in New Hampshire.10 Both adaptations are beneficial to regulators and consumers seeking to make informed plan choices. These advances allow us to provide a more meaningful assessment of “artificial local provider deserts,” that is, networks devoid of any providers due to network design. Finally, we incorporate all these adaptations into a useful graphical display based on the previous work of Polsky and Weiner.11
California often is the trend setter for other health care markets around the country. It also has a well-functioning ACA marketplace in operation. We focused our study on the behavior of California insurers and gathered data for California’s cardiologists, endocrinologists, obstetricians and gynecologists, pediatricians, and cardiac surgeons. We linked these data to insurance plans sold on Covered California, the state's ACA marketplace, as well as to their commercial counterparts sold outside the marketplace, and compared these networks to all providers in the respective specialty.6
Overall, our analysis indicates that that ACA plans generally are narrower than their commercial counterparts Network design often creates significant access issues for consumers in California because of artificial local provider deserts. Access generally, and artificial local provider networks in particular, place an especially high travel burden on rural residents.