Payer 101: One size doesn’t fit all: Sample sizes for payer research

November 5, 2015 at 6:03 PM Leave a comment

At MedSpan Research, we have over 17 years of payer research experience. In our Payer 101 series, we’re sharing our expertise with you. In our two previous posts in this series, we covered the basics of the U.S. payer landscape as well as the appropriate titles within these organizations to include in payer research projects. In this final post in the series, we’ll discuss how to determine the appropriate number of payers to include in your research study.


When it comes to sample size, there are two key differences between payers and other market research respondents that make payer research a little more challenging.

These are the:

  • Size of the payer universe, and
  • Mix of different health plan types and products, particularly commercial, Medicare and managed Medicaid.

There are roughly 500 health plans in the United States; therefore the universe of payer respondents is relatively limited compared to physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals. The limited number of payers also means they are in greater demand and may be less available than other respondent types for qualitative interviews. For this reason, we suggest conducting one-on-one TDIs (telephone-depth-interviews) with payers instead of in-person interviews. In addition, TDIs are ideal for interviewing payers located across the country. We’ll talk about why this is important next.

In order to conduct research that is representative of most U.S. payers, the sample for a payer study should include respondents from a mix of national and regional plans from across the country. The sample may also need to include payers who are responsible for different lines of business (i.e., commercial, Medicare and managed Medicaid), depending on your ultimate business objective. To learn more about size, geographical coverage and types of health plans, please see our first post in this Payer 101 series.

At MedSpan Research, our qualitative payer studies typically range from 10 to 40 payers. The quantitative studies we conduct include anywhere between 30* to 90 payers. Ideally, market research studies should include one respondent per organization, but the small number of health plans makes recruiting more than 90 payers makes this very challenging.  The feasibility of achieving a full sample decreases dramatically beyond 90 payers. When possible, we recommend allowing two respondents per health plan, as long as they represent different regions (and therefore different populations).

To address the unique challenges of recruiting payers for studies, our in-house fielding team often pre-qualifies payer respondents using data (such as number of covered lives and lines of business) stored in our proprietary respondent database, RapidAccess™. We have also built strong long-term relationships with these payer respondents. Both of these approaches help to expedite the fielding process and to limit the number of payers we must contact to achieve our total sample.


Over the years, we’ve seen payer research become of greater and greater interest to our clients. As we strive to meet their needs, we have also gained a wealth of information on payers along the way. We hope our Payer 101 series has been helpful to you, whether you are looking to conduct your first payer study, or if you have several payer research projects under your belt. We’d love to hear your thoughts, tips and tricks when it comes to payer research. Thanks for reading!


*When conducting any type of quantitative study, we suggest a minimum of 30 respondents.  This is the minimum sample required to perform any type of statistical analysis.



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High-Deductible Health Plans Reference Pricing — Coming soon to a health plan near you?

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