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Preventive care hardly plays a role when choosing a health insurance plan

Health insurers pay more and more attention to preventive care, and are also able to differentiate themselves on that. However, the effort they put into preventive care hardly plays a role in the decision-making process of insured when choosing a health insurance plan. This has been one of the conclusions of the annual monitor that the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) publishes, which looks into the switching behavior of the insured. Preventive care is important, as it can avoid the need for medical care later. Preventive care thus benefits the health and well-being of individuals, and helps keep the health care system affordable and accessible.

Familiarity with preventive care

The monitor reveals that, for less than 5 percent of respondents, the range of preventive-care services or that of health programs is a reason for them to switch plans. Although more than half of respondents are familiar with the range of preventive-care services offered by their health insurers, it plays hardly a role in their decision-making process when choosing a health insurance plan. In that context, only 15 percent of respondents find it important that health insurers reward healthy choices with the aim of avoiding the need for medical care in the future. That relatively low percentage may be an indication that insured attach little value to preventive care or to the health insurer’s role in that process. Also, insured that do not expect to require medical care find the rewarding of good behavior more important (20 percent) than do individuals that believe they will require medical care a lot (8 percent) or frequently (11 percent). That discrepancy could suggest that people that think they will stay healthy do not always want to pay towards the medical costs incurred by people with unhealthy lifestyles. That may be an indication that there are limits to solidarity.

What is preventive care?

Examples of preventive care are lifestyle programs that are aimed at more exercise and healthy eating, or smoking cessation programs or preventive dental check-ups for youths. These types of care services lead to healthier lifestyles, as a result of which all kinds of physical and mental issues can be prevented or delayed. Many of these preventive care programs are covered by the basic health insurance package, such as smoking cessation programs or weight loss support programs. Also, most health insurers offer preventive care programs in their additional-insurance packages, for example health programs that help boost people’s own health or that of others, but also first-aid or CPR courses.

Health insurers spend more and more energy in making people more familiar with preventive-care services, and in stimulating the consumption thereof. In that way, health insurers are also able to differentiate themselves from their competitors. For example, insurers can deliberately contract specific providers for the basic health insurance package or create a different selection in the additional-insurance packages. In addition, health insurers can stimulate certain types of preventive care by covering it without having them count towards people’s deductibles. Some health insurers reward healthy behavior. For example, customers may earn credits by exercising a certain amount, and exchange those credits for gift vouchers.

Price is the most important reason for choosing a different insurance plan

Price remains, by far, the most important reason for choosing a different insurance plan (53 percent). Other important reasons for switching plans are coverage (32 percent) and having freedom of choice when selecting a health care provider (15 percent). Out of 12 reasons for switching plans, the range of preventive-care services and health programs are near the bottom of that list.

Preventive care only plays a very limited role in the insured’s decision-making processes. That calls for more attention. If people were to consume more preventive-care services, not only would that benefit their own health, but it would also help keep the health care system affordable and accessible. Comparison websites can play a role in that effort, since more and more health insurance plans are taken out through comparison websites: 34 percent compared with 26 percent last year. At the moment, comparison websites compare predominantly on price, and much less on other components of the various plans. If comparison websites gave preventive care a more prominent spot, it could help the insured appreciate preventive care more.

About the study

The Health Care Monitor was conducted by Motivaction, a Dutch independent research agency, commissioned by ACM, among a representative sample of over 1,700 Dutch individuals between the ages of 18 and 80. The results are representative for education, age, gender, region, and size of household.

See also:

29-04-2022 Health Care Monitor 2022: study into switching behavior with regard to health insurances (in Dutch)