Why Are Health Care Consumers Not Shopping The Market?

It’s all about priorities – and the price of health care doesn’t seem to be one of them.

If you believe aggressive health care consumerism is the cure for rising health care costs and poor health care quality, safety and service, you may be seriously disappointed.

Two new reports indicate that most consumers are showing little interest in shopping for anything from medical care to health insurance. For those who pay most of the nation’s health care tab—health plans and employers—the message is clear: They need to do more to encourage enrollees and employees to shop for health care like they do for other consumable goods and services.

The first report, from HealthMine, a Dallas-based patient engagement consulting firm, is based on a survey of 750 consumers enrolled in health plan-sponsored wellness programs. Some 70 percent of the respondents said they do not compare prices before selecting a site to receive a medical service or buy their prescription medications. 

Asked why they don’t price shop for a medical service or prescription medication, the respondents gave the following reasons:

  • 41 percent said the cost is covered by their health plan “so it doesn’t matter”
  • 34 percent said they don’t select medical services based on price
  • 15 percent said they don’t know how to select medical services based on price
  • And 10 percent said it was either too difficult and took too much time

The second report, from the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, suggests that the medical malaise detected by the HealthMine survey won’t be ending anytime soon. The second report is based on a survey of about 1,200 millennial adults born between 1980 and 1997.

Of those surveyed, 89 percent have health benefits either from a private or public source. However, only 37 percent said they comparison shop for health insurance. Some 63 percent of the respondents said they do not comparison shop for health insurance.

The answer to why most millennials don’t comparison shop for health insurance could be found in how the respondents ranked their highest priorities in life.

Only 16 percent said “getting/having affordable health insurance” was among their three highest priorities. Even fewer—13 percent—included “getting/having access to quality healthcare” in their top three choices. Their highest priorities were “taking care of my physical health” and “getting/keeping a job,” each cited by 35 percent of the respondents.

And when consumers needed health information or help selecting where to receive care, both reports found doctors and family members—most notably moms—as the leading sources to help them choose.