Consumers typically shop around for the best price on everything from electronics to cars and airline tickets. But the one thing they don’t appear to shop around for is healthcare.
A new study found that consumers in high-deductible health plans don’t price shop at all, questioning whether the plans can save money without hurting care. In fact, many consumers are instead foregoing vital medical procedures, researchers behind the study say.
Part of the problem is that consumers don’t have any tools to use to shop for the best price on procedures and tests. For instance, try finding the best price for your next flight without websites such as Travelocity or Priceline.
High-deductible plans have proliferated among employers looking to keep premiums down. The plans work by having the employee pay for healthcare services such as doctor visits and tests until they reach a certain amount, then the insurer begins picking up the costs.
The deductible varies from plan to plan. Obamacare requires that an annual deductible can’t be more than $6,600 for an individual and $13,200 for a family.
The study released Monday looked at a company that forced all of its employees to use a high-deductible insurance plan.
The switch to such plans saved the company about $100 million in the first year compared to the year before. Most of those savings was due to employees foregoing spending on various healthcare procedures.
“We find no evidence of consumers learning to price shop after two years in high-deductible coverage,” according to the study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Researchers weren’t surprised as shopping for the best price on an imaging test is more difficult than comparing prices at Best Buy and Walmart for a new TV.
“Shopping for healthcare is a complicated thing,” said Ben Handel, a professor at the University of California Berkeley. “It is hard to find out what prices are and information on provider quality as well.”
A problem is that there are tools out there to help people shop for healthcare prices, but they are limited.
Some of the tools let consumers only search for things like the best price for vaccinations or lab tests or the cost for going to a primary care physician, Handel said.
Instead of price shopping, consumers in the study stopped getting all sorts of medical procedures, even those that are useful.