- More individuals are shopping around to find less expensive healthcare, according to UnitedHealthcare’s annual consumer sentiment survey.
- Some 37% of respondents say they used the internet or smartphone apps to comparison shop for care. That’s up from 14% in 2012. Of those who shopped around in the most current survey, 39% said they changed the facility or provider where they received care as a result.
- The survey touched on, but didn't delve into, the difficulty of obtaining accurate cost estimates for consumers.
Minnesota-based payer UnitedHealthcare unveiled its fourth-annual consumer sentiment survey on Thursday, and some of the findings suggest that consumers are more willing to use high-tech tools to shop around and better interact with their providers.
“Technology continues to reshape nearly every aspect of life, including how people research and access healthcare,” Rebecca Madsen, UnitedHealthcare’s chief consumer officer, said in a statement. “This survey suggests Americans are increasingly embracing technology as an important resource to improve their health and more effectively navigate the health system.”
UnitedHealthcare also noted a rising desire among consumers to have their physicians use artificial intelligence to assist in making treatment decisions and avoid errors, as well as using telemedicine for receiving care.
However, there were some limitations to the survey: Among the cohort that was willing to shop around for care, 50% were millennials. That means health plan enrollees over the age of 40 — and statistically more likely to use or need healthcare services — are significantly less likely to shop around.
And while United painted a rosy picture of consumers exercising choice, the Los Angeles Times reported that shopping around for price does not necessarily mean obtaining that price. It discussed the plight of Indiana resident Rebecca Grimm, who had used her insurer-provided tools to shop around for a procedure to address a miscarriage and still ended up being charged $5,000 more than what she was expecting.
“How in the world were we supposed to know how to shop for all that?” Grimm told the newspaper.
The L.A. Times and Kaiser Family Foundation conducted its own study about shopping around for care, and concluded only one in six Americans are actually doing so – less than half the rate claimed by UnitedHealthcare.
UnitedHealthcare’s survey of more than 1,000 adults also had some troubling data: 64% of those surveyed say they never know the price of medicines their doctor prescribes them before leaving their office, leaving them open to sticker shock.
Such sentiments come as another new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that out-of-pocket costs for insured Americans have risen over the past decade 8.1 times faster than their wages.