Public Agenda Announces New Health Care Research and Communications Initiative with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

February 28, 2022

The project, focused on documenting and analyzing the real-life impacts of narrow insurance networks, will explore how people managing chronic physical and mental health conditions are affected by challenges finding providers covered by plans sold on state and federal insurance marketplaces.

Public Agenda is excited to announce a new research initiative supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which will provide insight into how inadequate networks negatively impact people’s lives, including their physical and mental health, finances, and relationships with the health care system.

This research advances Public Agenda’s mission of expanding opportunity for all Americans by providing insight into how the limitations of plans sold on state and federal marketplaces affect people seeking care.

“The promise of American democracy is the equal opportunity for each person to participate, to shape their communities and our country,” said Andrew Seligsohn, President of Public Agenda. “In the real world, if you face a serious health condition and cannot access the care you need, your opportunity for full participation disappears. This research is about understanding how inadequate networks constrain opportunity and impose financial risk onto Americans, with the hope that its findings will enable policymakers to solve the problem.”

To inform efforts to make networks more adequate, this new project will use a variety of qualitative methodologies to explore how inadequate networks affect people physically, emotionally, financially, and logistically. The research will also include the perspectives of administrative professionals in providers’ offices, who can provide further insight into how network inadequacy affects patients, clinicians, and practices. Together, these perspectives from patients and administrators will bolster efforts to strengthen network adequacy by bringing to life people’s stories about the impacts and urgency of narrow networks.

"When people cannot access the care they need in a timely manner, they can suffer physically, emotionally, and financially. They can also lose trust in the health care system,” said David Schleifer, Public Agenda’s Vice President and Director of Research. “Our new research focuses on better understanding these human costs of inadequate networks and capturing people's stories in their own voices."

The project will use a range of methodologies, including focus groups, online diaries in which people seeking care will detail their experiences, and video interviews with participants. Public Agenda’s research is part of a larger portfolio of RWJF-supported projects about network inadequacy. Other initiatives include an assessment of standards and oversight of network adequacy in Medicaid-managed care and Marketplace health plans, led by the Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reforms and the Center for Children & Families, as well as a large-scale assessment of how consumers navigate provider networks by researchers at Penn State and Ohio State. A robust communications effort led by RWJF will bring insights from Public Agenda and fellow grantees to regulators, policymakers, and other key decision-makers who are positioned to strengthen network adequacy and expand access to timely care.

“This research will help reveal network deficiencies that lead to financial burdens on Americans” said Anne Weiss, Interim Vice President for Policy at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “With this knowledge in hand, we can better understand how to craft policy that improves health coverage to alleviate this risk and create more equitable health outcomes.”

This project builds on Public Agenda’s expertise in conducting research and public engagement that strengthens the voice of the public in health care policymaking. Past projects include opinion research into Americans’ views on improving health care as part of the Hidden Common Ground initiative with USA Today as well as RWJF-support research on building mutual trust between physicians and people covered by Medicaid. Public Agenda has also conducted engagement work as part of its Community Voices for Health initiative in partnership with Altarum. A full suite of Public Agenda’s health care research and resources can be found here.