Savvy consumers do a lot of comparison shopping — for food, clothing, homes, cars and just about anything else that can be purchased.
But there’s one area where comparison shopping is difficult, if not impossible — health care. According to Modern Healthcare, there are lots of reasons why consumers aren’t very successful at getting their health care through the same efficient methods they use to buy other necessities.
One startling statistic: In 2011, of the health care services consumers paid for out of pocket, only 7 percent were services they could actually shop for. Another disturbing bit of information is that in 2016, 43 states did not have laws mandating a minimum standard for mandating patients have access to health care price information.
People do shop around, when they can. A 2014 study from Public Agenda and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 56 percent of Americans tried to find price information before receiving health care; 59 percent opted for a less expensive alternative when they compared prices — and a new study from Public Agenda finds that although 59 percent of Texas residents try to shop in advance to learn how much medical procedures and services will cost, they can’t always get answers.
It probably doesn’t help, either, that hospitals are pushing patients to fork over funds for medical care before they’ve even had the procedure or treatment in question; it’s tough to look around for a cheaper plan when you’re being expected to pay up front — even if that does mean that at least you’re getting an estimate of the cost in advance.
Another reason people may not be so eager to shop around when it comes to care: cheaper services may not be covered by the shopper’s insurance. And then there’s the nagging worry about whether the cheaper care is less effective than treatment at a more expensive facility — that old bugaboo about “you get what you pay for” can discourage people from trying, as can the fear factor of risking treatment with a doctor or a facility the patient doesn’t know, compared with one that’s familiar.
A recent Modern Healthcare article points out that worry over the quality of care from a lower-cost provider can actually play out in real life, and also increase the worry and aggravation of the patient trying to go a cheaper route. Often, the problems inherent in trying to buck a system to save a few (or many) bucks can result in patients simply foregoing medical care altogether.
A little more disturbing information: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. household spent $4,290 on health care in 2014. Considering 83 percent of people had an employer-based health plan with a deductible in 2016, and the Kaiser Family Foundation pegs the average deductible in 2016 at $1,478, that certainly sounds like a lot.
But when you consider that the BLS also says there’s been a 195 percent increase in consumer prices for inpatient services from 1997 to 2016 and a 200 percent price increase for outpatient services over the same period, it’s not really all that surprising.