Bucknell Institute for Public Policy Poll Finds Few People Seek Health Care Pricing

Only about a quarter of Americans ask health care providers for price information

LEWISBURG, Pa. – Amid recent health care reform proposals meant to encourage consumers to take more control of their health care spending, a new Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) national poll conducted last month shows that just over a quarter (27.6 percent) of Americans seek pricing information about health care/medical procedures. The survey data suggests that most consumers are likely to have difficulty in finding the prices necessary to make more informed decisions.

Completed for BIPP last month by YouGov, the poll surveyed 1,200 respondents on their health insurance status, income and other demographic information. It inquired whether they had asked health care providers for price information, what types of health care they shopped for, and whether they received and used that information in making their health care choices. Full results are available here.

“These results are important in the context of more and more families being enrolled in high deductible health care plans,” said Amy Wolaver, an economics professor who is director of BIPP. “Proponents of high deductible plans argue that they will help slow the growth in health care costs by having consumers have more ‘skin in the game’ with respect to their health care. This theory only works if consumers do seek prices and are able to find and use that price information.”

Who Seeks Health care Price Information?

Over the past year, just over a quarter of respondents asked health care providers for price information.

“Some of this response may be because respondents were healthy and did not need much health care,” Wolaver said. “Alternatively, they may have had health care needs but did not seek care at all.”

According to the poll results, price-seeking behavior is more common among those with health insurance than those without, with 28.6 percent with insurance asking about prices compared to 19 percent without insurance. Lower income families (income less than $40,000) were less likely to ask for prices than higher income families, 23.0 percent to 32.8 percent, although this difference is likely due to differences in average education levels among families.

African-Americans are the least likely group to seek price information, with just over one in five (22.8 percent) indicating that they asked about prices. Asian-Americans and Hispanic/Latino- Americans had the highest rates of information seeking, as 33.6 percent and 32.8 percent respectively.

Education level is a very important indicator of price seeking in health care. Having some college education or more increases the likelihood of asking for health care prices by roughly 10 percentage points over persons with a high school degree or less. Those with post-graduate degrees are also roughly nine percentage points more likely to ask about prices than those with a four-year college degree.

Health Care Price Shopping Strategies

Among those Americans who did shop for health care prices, a sizable minority (30.9 percent) only asked for information from one health care provider. Most shoppers (38.7 percent) asked for information from two providers.

The most common type of medical procedure shopped for were doctor’s visits (38 percent), followed closely by outpatient services (35.8 percent), screening/diagnostic tests (35.2 percent), prescription drugs (35.1 percent) and dental care (32.4 percent).

The biggest driver of health care spending, hospitalizations, was the least likely to be asked about, with only one in five shoppers asking about them.

“These results are not surprising in that hospitalizations are more likely to be unexpected and are less routine than the other designated categories. However, this type of care represents the highest share of health care spending, and a primary area to target for slowing growth in expenditures,” Wolaver said. “Roughly half of those surveyed (52.4 percent) reported asking for prices for only one type of medical care.”

Success at Finding Prices & Use of Information

Even if more Americans attempt to shop for health care prices, they may not be able to successfully find the information. Of the minority of Americans who did report price shopping, roughly a quarter (23.7 percent) were not given the information by any of the providers they asked. Further, almost half of the shoppers were able to get information from only a subset of the providers they asked. Only 27.3 percent of shoppers were able to get price information from all of the providers they asked.

Of the shoppers who were able to get price information, one in three said that they did not use that information to choose between them.

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About the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy

The Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) provides a forum for contemporary public policy discussion, a mechanism to support faculty-guided undergraduate research, and an academic home for students pursuing a degree in public policy. Under this interdisciplinary and cross-departmental framework, Bucknell faculty and students focus on particular policy areas including the economy, domestic and international politics, education, health, the environment, and civil society. The Institute supports student and faculty research and provides service to the local community through educational outreach.


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