According to the recent Kaiser Family Foundation 2003 Employer Health Benefits Survey, 62% of the smaller firms (3-199 workers) surveyed shopped for new health plan types or insurance carriers during the last year, while 33% actually changed plans or carriers. Surprisingly, however, very few small employers had any knowledge of some leading resources online that could help them evaluate and compare health plans.

In fact, as the survey notes: "Despite the continuing efforts to educate firms about health plan quality, private sector efforts to accredit plans and measure quality remain largely unknown among smaller employers."

Clearly, it behooves small-business owners to be educated consumers of health care plans and carriers, especially at a time when skyrocketing premiums are forcing many to shop around. Here are the leading resources the Kaiser Survey notes and how they might help you become a better informed consumer:

National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA)
Independent non-profit organization that supplies information about the quality of the nation’s managed care plans. The site also includes several pay-for publications including Quality Compass 2003, the NCQA's tool for selecting a health plan, conducting competitor analysis, quality improvement, benchmarking and health care research, and
Health Plan Emmployer and Information Data Sheets (HEDIS), which include a standardized survey of consumers' experiences that evaluates plan performance in areas such as customer service, access to care and claims possessing.

A nonprofit organization that promotes health quality through accreditation and certification. It includes a directory of accredited organizations.

The Leapfrog Group
A coalition of public and private organizations created to reduce preventable medical mistakes by identifying problems and proposing solutions to improve hospital care.