Are Americans becoming savvier medical services shoppers or not? Well, it depends on how you look at it.
A survey from HealthMine suggests that consumers want to make smarter choices when it comes to buying medical services, but they are having a hard time keeping up with the games insurers play with benefits packages.
Not surprisingly, Dallas-based HealthMine, a provider of a platform that assists in the purchase of health insurance, medical services, and pharmaceuticals, concludes that what consumers need are better comparison tools to guide them through the purchasing process.
That said, the survey of 750 adults who have access to an employer-sponsored wellness plan revealed that most consumers — 70 percent — still don’t compare prices of medical services and pharmaceuticals before they purchase. And those that do price shop often feel bewildered when they attempt to explore the health services jungle on their own.
It’s not just lazy insurance shopping that’s to blame. HealthMine found that nearly seven of 10 health plan sponsors do not offer any kind of comparison tool to plan members.
“Health plan sponsors may not be doing all they can to help,” HealthMine says, noting the dearth of comparison tools available to buyers. “This is despite growing industry and consumer awareness that medical procedure costs vary widely by location and provider.”
The survey found that 42 percent say they feel it was “very important” to have a comparison tool in their wellness program to help them decide what services and drugs to buy. Almost everyone else agrees that a comparison tool would be helpful.
Yet a rather alarming level of ignorance of health services basics surfaced in the responses. When asked why they didn’t shop based upon price, four in 10 think all costs are borne by the plan sponsor, and another 34 percent say cost wasn’t a consideration when selecting services or drugs. “I don’t know how,” ranks as a response by 15 percent, while another 10 percent say it was either too hard or too time consuming to compare prices.
But the survey results strongly indicate that consumers are aware that they can get appropriate coverage for less if they price compare. Nearly half of those who do price shop say they use a comparison tool: 35 percent say they use the comparison tool provided by their wellness plan, and another 14 percent say they use some other online comparison tool. Another 45 percent say they ask their personal physician for help when shopping. Less than 10 percent say they ask family and friends, which is probably a large stride in the right direction of better educated consumers.