- The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout are reshaping how people approach healthcare services, with costs among their top concerns, according to data analytics firm TransUnion Healthcare's annual patient survey.
- Almost half of patients — 49% — say the economy shapes how they seek medical care, the survey of more than 3,000 recent patients of hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices conducted last month found. That's up from 42% in last year's survey. Younger respondents in the Generation Z, millennial and Generation X cohorts were more likely to say their choice of healthcare services or insurance has been impacted by COVID-19 than baby boomers.
- Moreover, 80% of those surveyed said they were using insurer websites to conduct cost research, up from the 75% in last year's survey. The percentages are even higher among Gen Zers and millennials.
In the U.S., which has high rates of uninsured, confusing pricing practices and ever-rising costs, the coronavirus pandemic appears to have exacerbated one of the sector's biggest concerns: affordability.
"Healthcare consumerism is growing, perhaps in part due to the economic and financial challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic," TransUnion Healthcare President David Wojczynski said in a statement accompanying the survey's results.
Particularly impacted seem to be younger cohorts such as Gen Z (born mid to late 1990s) and millennials (born early 1980s to mid-1990s). About 67% of Gen Zers and 55% of millennials say the current shape of the economy dictates how they seek out healthcare services, compared to just 51% of Gen Xers and 30% of baby boomers.
A third of Gen Zers and 29% of millennials say their health insurance has been impacted by COVID-19, compared to just 22% among all respondents. And 59% of Gen Zers and 55% of millennials say they're choosing their providers based on cost, compared to just 36% of baby boomers.
"Due to the pandemic, larger percentages of younger generations deferred non-essential care and had their insurance coverage impacted. At the same time, the industry has reported only modest shifts in payer mix despite the economic and financial impacting these individuals, going against expectations and signifying a gap in coverage," Jonathan Wiik, a TransUnion Healthcare principal, said.
Studies have suggested as many as 14 million Americans may have lost their health insurance coverage during the pandemic.
Patient out-of-pocket costs were mostly flat or lower compared to 2019 levels, TransUnion found. They shrunk 7% and 5% respectively for emergency department and inpatient care, but grew 6% for outpatient care. As a result, it's likely patients' newfound focus on understanding costs before receiving a healthcare service are driven by COVID-19 impacts and insurance plan disruptions, TransUnion said.
The report also noted that patients were more likely to pay their medical bills when they had more information about upfront costs. There's been some government action on this: A CMS price transparency rule that will go into effect Jan. 1 would compel providers to publish secret negotiated rates with insurers, in a bid to provide more transparency for consumers.
However, providers and payers are furiously fighting the rule in the legal system, currently in front of an appellate court, though experts say it's unlikely the private sector's argument will win.