“There are Lies, Damnable Lies, and Statistics”

James McDonough, Membership Development</

Mark Twain’s quote still resonates. Information gathering, interpretation, and communication are essential business activities in today’s economy. Technology has made it easier than ever to do all this, and now the world is awash in statistics, “Big Data,” and numerous other metrics. Making sense of it all challenges every organization.


Surveys, for example, are useful for benchmarking and strategic planning. Knowing what is happening in the marketplace is critical intelligence for an organization to remain competitive. Web-based instant surveys provide lots of chatter, but probably not the reliable data needed. Surveys completed by reputable services and organizations are likely to provide the best information, but even these surveys should be reviewed closely. A recent example is a comparison of survey results released by MSEC and a national survey released by Segal Consulting. MSEC survey respondents forecasted an overall 10 percent increase in 2014 health plan costs. As Sue Wolf, MSEC Surveys Director, explains, “We based our results on responses from 180 organizations that provided us with figures for their projected health increases. Another 236 organizations who did not know what their projected increase would be and 52 organizations indicated they did not expect an increase in health premiums.”

The 2014 Segal Health Plan Cost Trend Survey​ is a national survey of 99 health-care-related companies (MCOs, health insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, third-party administrators). It predicts an overall slowing in health plan costs, with 2014 increases as follows: PPOs 7.6%, HMOs 7.0%, high-deductible plans 7.9%. All well below the MSEC survey results of an overall 10% increase.

The differences between these professional surveys are significant, and result in part from a different pool of respondents. So which is most helpful? Determining survey data usefulness likely depends on an organization’s location, industry, and workforce profile. A smaller employer located in one state may find locally-focused surveys more beneficial for short-term planning and budgeting. That same small employer may keep an eye on national trends as well for long-term considerations like competitor analysis, expansion plans, cost trending, etc. Both surveys may prove useful, but for different purposes.

Bottom line, carefully consider sources of information and pay close attention to the details when analyzing survey data. MSEC Surveys Department strives to produce high quality surveys and welcomes questions to maximize their usefulness. ​