It stands to reason that if you know how much something is going to cost you, you can make better decisions about whether and how to pay for it.
But when it comes to health care plans, not so much. That’s according to a HealthMine survey of consumers with sponsored health insurance, 39 percent of whom say their plans don’t offer them a tool to help them predict how much their care will cost them.
A report in 2014 by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center has found that giving consumers prices for health care could cut spending on U.S. care by more than $100 billion during the next 10 years, but that doesn’t mean plans are providing their members with ways to predict how much they’ll end up paying for health care services, visits to providers or getting prescriptions filled.
With only 38 percent saying that their plans give them a tool to predict the cost of a doctor visit, 37 percent saying there’s a tool to predict how much they’ll pay for prescription drugs and 36 percent saying their plan gives them the means to predict the cost of a service, such as imaging, lab tests or some other procedure, that leaves a lot of room for improvement.
It remains to be seen whether that improvement is on the way, despite the fact that outcomes for patients would be better if they could know in advance how much medications and treatment will cost them. Not only are patients worried about the bills, if they do try to find a cheaper provider, they worry — often justifiably so — that the quality of the care they receive might not be on a par with a more expensive one.
In fact, a recent Modern Healthcare article finds that the combination of potential problems surrounding cost and quality worries can lead patients to simply skip treatments or medications — and that makes everything more expensive, and probably even more dangerous, down the road.
That’s not to say they don’t try to shop around, but it’s not easy to get the answers without help. Another Modern Healthcarereport highlights the fact that simply calling doctors’ offices and/or hospitals won’t necessarily result in getting the information patients need to make informed decisions, much less save money.
Of course, some hospitals are trying to get out in front of the problem of patients possibly not being able to pay for care by trying to get them to pay for it before they even get it — but at least they’re giving patients estimates of the cost ahead of time.