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One in four stay at current job primarily for health coverage
When it comes to health care costs, four out of five U.S. consumers indicate they would be comfortable approaching their doctor about the cost of services in order to find competitive pricing. Despite this, fewer than half of consumers have actually asked about the price of care, according to the latest Survey of Consumer Health Care Opinions by the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that provides health systems research and consulting services. The study was conducted among U.S. adults in the fall of 2013, and its findings were published in January 2014.
The size of the health insurance deductible often plays a role in whether a person asks questions about the cost of care. Generally, those with high-deductible plans are much more likely to ask about the price of health care services before visiting a provider.
“It’s a positive sign that people are open to asking their doctors about costs and involving themselves in their health care decisions,” said Wendy Lynch, director of Altarum's Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care and the study’s author. “But overall, the study shows that people still have their head in the sand when it comes to what they think they can control. They have more power than they realize just by asking questions; now they just need to use it.”
Checking Prices Pays Off
Costs of health care services can vary significantly within a local area. In 2012, Change Healthcare's Transparency Index found that a diabetes screening could cost anywhere from $51 to $437 in one community—a 755 percent cost difference—HR Magazine reported. Colonoscopies ranged from $786 to $1,819, and Pap smears cost between $131 and $476.
According to a 2012 white paper by business-information provider Thomson Reuters, if prices for 300 common procedures were reduced to their median price nationwide, total employer medical expenses would drop by 3.5 percent, or $36 billion annually, SHRM Online reported.
Among Atrium's survey findings:
Retirement Health Care Fears
Retirement is one area in which health care planning is lacking. According to the study, only 5 percent of people are certain that they will have the recommended savings needed to cover health expenses after they retire, while more than 80 percent are either unsure or unlikely to have enough money set aside for health care in their golden years.
The survey also found that most consumers face financial pressures and may be cutting back on out-of-pocket-paid medical care as a result.
Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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