Although half of Americans research the price of healthcare services before receiving care, more work is needed to achieve widespread adoption and use of such price information, a report from Public Agenda finds.
Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson and New York State Health foundations, the report, Still Searching: How People Use Health Care Price Information in the United States, New York State, Florida, Texas and New Hampshire (80 pages, PDF), found that 50 percent of survey respondents had sought information about how much they would have to pay out of pocket, not including co-pays, and/or how much their insurers would pay. Insured respondents with higher deductibles (69 percent) and those who had been uninsured in the past year (63 percent) were more likely to have tried to find price information, as were those with four-year college degrees, women, African Americans, and people under the age of 30. More than half of all respondents, however, did not know that hospitals and doctors often charge varying prices for the same service.
According to the report, most Americans who sought price information did not actually compare prices from multiple providers. Of the 20 percent of respondents who did so, 59 percent chose the less expensive provider and 53 percent reported saving money. In addition, 70 percent of all respondents said higher prices were not typically a sign of higher-quality medical care, while of those who had never tried to find price information, 40 percent said that if they knew prices in advance, they would choose the less expensive option. Respondents also were more likely to say that insurance companies are mostly interested in making money (68 percent) than they were to say the same of hospitals (38 percent) or doctors (27 percent).
The report concludes that insurers, employers, and state policy makers need to adopt strategies to encourage people to compare prices, offer a variety of transparent sources — beyond websites — for price information, and enable medical professionals and their staffs to discuss prices with patients or refer them to reliable sources of price information.
"In order for any of us to make informed decisions that meet our own healthcare goals and needs, we must have clear and transparent information," said Andrea Ducas, program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "And while price information is just one part of that equation, this research points to a real and important gap between what people want and what they have access to. Price transparency is a critical part of making the healthcare system more accountable to the people it is serving."