Patients Trust Doctors with Their Lives—and Wallets

Employers fall short as trusted source of price information for health care services.

Patients Trust Doctors with Their Lives—and Wallets
Employers need to do more to provide workers with health care price information if they want them to comparison shop for services and save money for themselves and for their companies.
That’s the takeaway from an 80-page report released by the consumer advocacy group Public Agenda and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New York State Health Foundation.
The report, Still Searching: How People Use Health Care Price Information in the United States, is based on a survey of a national representative sample of 2,062 adults age 18 or older. The survey found that most consumers want price information before getting health care services from a provider. But where they turn for that information and who they trust to give it to them varies widely.
Overall, 50 percent of the respondents said they have tried to obtain price information before receiving care or services. That varied by health coverage. Some 57 percent of the respondents with deductibles sought price information compared with 40 percent of the respondents without deductibles.
The most common care or service for which consumers sought price information for was: a medical test (36 percent), a visit to a physician specialist (34 percent), a visit to a primary-care doctor (32 percent) and a hospital stay (24 percent).
A “friend, relative or colleague” was the most common source consumers turned to get prices with 55 percent of the respondents going that route followed by: their insurance company (48 percent); their doctor (46 percent); someone in their doctor’s office (45 percent); a hospital billing department (31 percent); a nurse (29 percent); the internet (20 percent); and smart phone app (17 percent).
Interestingly, the most trusted source of health care price information was their doctor, cited by 77 percent of the respondents. The least trusted source was their employer, cited by just 51 percent.
“Employers and employees could both benefit from lower health care spending,” the report said. “Therefore, it would be in employers’ interests to become trusted sources of or trusted guides to price information for more of their employees.”
The report also urged states to take a variety of actions to make health care price information more transparent and easily accessible to consumers.
Minnesota was one of 43 states to get a failing grade for its health care price transparency laws from Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute and Catalyst for Payment Reform last July. In their report, the two groups recommended that Minnesota: “Take the data from the state’s established APCD (all-payer claims database) and post it on a publicly available website.”
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