Computer Game Simulates Coverage and Outcomes

Consumer-directed health care plans can work, say employers in a recent survey, if the right tactics are used to help workers manage their health and benefits better.

Towers Perrin surveyed more than 120 major U.S. companies and found that many believe that CDHPs can help slow the growth of health care costs if they provide workers with information-gathering tools. “With the savings from managed care and vendor management initiatives behind us, employers are searching for workable solutions to the health care costs dilemma,” says Jim Foreman, managing director of health and welfare at Towers Perrin.

However, the study also shows that employees can be downright dubious about CDHPs and any other proposal that seeks to shift more of the costs to them.

“Our survey suggests that many employees just aren't buying it, in part because they've been largely shielded from the true cost of health care during the managed care era and view rising costs as the company's problem. What comes through loud and clear in our survey is that, for employees, health care is all about me.”

Which might explain why the makers of a computer game hope that tapping into that self-interest will be a way to educate workers.

The game, called Choosing Healthplans All Together (CHAT) asks a small group of participants to create a hypothetical group health plan. Created by physician ethicists at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Michigan Medical School, CHAT takes about two hours to play.

CHAT, described as a cross between Monopoly and Game of Life, offers possible health care options — “over a dozen types of services each with varying levels of coverage — that must be chosen within the limited budget of a typical health insurance premium. Groups of players decide what to include and what to eliminate from their plans,” according to the University of Michigan.

Then real life intrudes in the form of Health Events Cards that players must draw in each round. These show the players how the health plan they created would perform in different circumstances.

The game has lessons for everyone, says Susan Dorr Goold, MD, of the University of Michigan, who is one of the co-inventors of the game. “CHAT helps ordinary people better understand health insurance, and helps health insurance policy makers better understand the health care priorities of ordinary people.”