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Survey: Most Jerseyans value ability to pick doctors, hospitals over cost of plan

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Health care choice is a bigger consideration than cost for most New Jerseyans, and they are divided over whether they would give up some of their wages to get better health coverage, or give up some health benefits in order to increase their paychecks.

Those are among the finding of the “Health Matters Poll,” the Monmouth University Polling Institute and New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute survey released Wednesday.
Most insured New Jerseyans (56 percent) consider the range of available doctors and services to be more important in choosing a health care plan than the plan’s premium and co-pay costs (33 percent).
Jeffrey A. Brown, chief of staff of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said the survey contrasts with conventional wisdom.
"(Most think that) when consumers choose plans, they think cost, cost, cost," he said. "In fact, people would rather have a range of doctors and services versus lower premiums and copays. In a way it’s not surprising, because people do want quality care. The want to go to the doctors they know and trust and they want an insurance company that’s going to allow them to do that.”
David L. Knowlton, chief executive of the  New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said choosing your physician is key.
"There are few things more important to individuals than their own health and they want to be able to select physicians and hospitals they know and trust," he said.
Those covered by government plans such as Medicare or Medicaid  are the most likely (63 percent) to say that the choice of doctors and services is more important. Among those whose employer  provides a choice of plans, 53 percent said  that the availability of doctors and services is more important than cost. And of  those  purchasing coverage on their own, 46 percent said choice is more important, while 38 percent said cost is more important in a health care plan.
A large majority, 68 percent, said the main reason to have health insurance is to cover illnesses and accidents, while 28 percent said coverage for normal preventive expenses is more important. Among those who purchase insurance on their own, 81 percent said the main reason to have coverage is for illnesses and accidents.
The survey found that 50 percent of New Jerseyans get their health plan through an employer, and 64 percent of that  group said  their employer provides a choice of different plans. About 24 percent are covered under a  government plan (Medicare or Medicaid), 6 percent buy health insurance on their own, 5 percent are  covered by their parents’ plan or through their  school, and 13 percent do not have coverage.
Among those who aren’t covered by the government, 48 percent said they would  prefer to have more comprehensive health benefits at the expense of lower wages while 42 percent say that they would sacrifice health benefits for higher wages. Among New Jersey residents under the age of 65 who get health coverage through an employer, 49 percent would accept lower wages for better health benefits and 44 percent would accept fewer health benefits to earn higher wages.
That differs from a national Kaiser Health survey in June 2013 which found 53 percent of Americans under age 65 with employer coverage wanted higher wages at the expense of better health benefits, compared to 39 percent who would sacrifices wages in exchange for better  health coverage.
“The fact that working New Jerseyans are more willing than other Americans to give up some pay in order to get better health coverage is an indication of the burden posed by health care in this high-cost state,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Murray said “You would think in a state with such a high cost of living,  people would want as much money in their paycheck as possible.”
The survey, however, found that New Jerseyans view it as a tradeoff.
“(They) would rather pay a little bit more now in terms of getting better  coverage than worry about getting hit with a giant bill that could potentially sink them financially,” Murray said.
Cost is an issue, but having choice ranks higher, Murray said.
“If something happens to a family member, they want to be able to make sure they have access to the best care available,” he said.
The poll found New Jerseyans’ opinions of the Affordable Care Act has gotten more negative since the poll was last conducted in September.  Currently 40 percent of New Jerseyans have a favorable view and 50 percent have an unfavorable view of the ACA. Three months ago, it was  45 percent  favorable and  40 percent  unfavorable.
While the survey found  consumers value health insurance more for the coverage of serious illness and accidents than routine preventive care,  Brown noted that the ACA emphasizes prevention by requiring health plans to cover some preventive services without copays.
Preventive screenings aim to detect illness early.
“So you can deal with it now, before you have a problem,” Brown said. And he said future polls will reveal whether, “as we start to incentivize those preventive interactions with the healthcare market, consumers see more of the benefits of prevention.”

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