Few Patients Comparison Shop for Care Based on Price

Study cites provider preferences, not knowing how to find price information as biggest barriers.

Few Patients Comparison Shop for Care Based on Price
The day patients comparison shop for medical care like consumers comparison shop for cars is still a long way off despite the increase in high-deductible health plans and health care price transparency.
That’s the takeaway from a new study in the journal Health Affairs that uncovered a wide gap between the importance patients place on price shopping for medical care and how often they actually do it.
The study is based on a 2015 survey of 1,664 adults age 18 to 64 who incurred at least some out-of-pocket expense for medical care over the previous one-year period. Of those respondents:
  • 52.1 percent said they were aware of the price before receiving care
  • 12.8 percent said they searched for their out-of-pocket spending responsibility
  • 10 percent said they considered going to another provider because of price
  • Only 3 percent said they compared costs among competing providers
Of the few who comparison shopped among competing providers based on price, the most common medical services they shopped for were: physical therapy (24.2 percent) and diagnostic laboratory or imaging services (10.6 percent). The least common medical services they shopped for were: retail health clinics and urgent care centers (0.9 percent) and physician office visits (1.6 percent).
The dearth of price shopping for primary care services came despite the fact that 71 percent of the patients said out-of-pocket spending was important or very important to them when choosing a doctor.
The two biggest barriers to price shopping for medical care were patients’ preference to go to the same providers that they’ve gone to in the past (77 percent) and patients not knowing about resources and tools that would enable them to compare costs among providers (75 percent).
“Our results emphasize that simply passing price transparency laws or regulations appears insufficient to facilitate price shopping,” the researchers concluded.
In July 2016, Minnesota was one of 43 states to receive a failing grade on health care price transparency from the advocacy groups Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute and Catalyst for Payment Reform, as previously reported by Twin Cities Business
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