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How to make health price information more accessible to consumers


National survey and surveys in New York State, Florida, Texas, and New Hampshire point to a need for more actionable price information.

Many Americans are seeking out how much their healthcare will cost, according to a new national survey with supplemental surveys in New York State, Florida, Texas, and New Hampshire.

“Still Searching How People Use Health Care Price Information in the United States,” from Public Agenda, and funded by the New York State Health Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that some people are using price information to save money, but more work needs to be done to achieve widespread adoption and use of price information.

The research summarizes findings from a nationally representative survey of 2,062 U.S. adults ages 18 and older and representative surveys of 808 adults in Texas, 802 adults in New York State, 819 adults in Florida and 826 adults in New Hampshire. Interviews were conducted from July through September 2016. Respondents could choose to complete the survey in English or Spanish. Data for both surveys were collected through 40% phone interviews, including cell phones, and 60% online surveys.

The survey found that 50% of Americans have tried to find out before getting care how much they would have to pay out of pocket, not including a copay, or how much their insurers would pay a provider. Similarly, about half of New York State residents-48%-have tried to find price information. In other states, an even greater percentage of people have tried to find price information: 56% of Floridians, 57% of New Hampshire residents and 59% of Texans.


“The survey results make clear that Americans are looking for price information. In fact, half of Americans have tried to find out how much their healthcare will cost before getting care,” says Public Agenda's Director of Research, David Schleifer. “And they are looking for it from a range of sources, including friends, relatives and colleagues; insurance companies; doctors; and receptionists.”

A surprising number of people do not know that providers charge different prices for the same services-a misconception that can discourage people from seeking out price information, according to Schleifer.

“About half of Americans are still not aware that hospitals’ prices can vary or that doctors’ prices can vary,” he says. “Most Americans do not believe that they need to sacrifice quality to save money. For those who are looking for price information, websites aren’t the most common source.” 

Health plans can do a better job of making meaningful price information available to their beneficiaries, according to Schleifer. “And more can be done to help people find the price information they need,” he adds.

Other survey findings include:

• 63% of Americans say that there is not enough information about how much medical services cost.

• 70% of Americans say higher prices are not typically a sign of better quality medical care.

• 80% of Americans think it is important for their state governments to provide comparative price information.

Next: Tips for execs


Based on the report, Schleifer offers these tips for healthcare executives:

Help people compare prices to help them save money.

“Direct price transparency efforts toward people who face high out-of-pocket costs and toward those whose insurance coverage is unstable,” he says.

Recognize the range of sources people use to try to find price information, and that websites aren't the most common source.

Equip medical professionals and their staffs to discuss prices with patients or to refer patients to reliable sources of price information.

Employers should find ways to build trust with more of their employees.

States should consider a range of ways to make price information more transparent.

Support further exploration of variations among states in how people find and use price information.

Efforts which aim to help the health care system work better by making prices more transparent should be informed by and responsive to the perspectives and needs of the public,” Schleifer says.


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