Are Healthcare Consumers Smart Shoppers?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal on April 12, 2017 titled “Can Consumers Be Smart Healthcare Shoppers” illustrated a difference of opinions about how easy or hard it is to find healthcare costs.   Two prominent healthcare professionals responded to the questions with two very different answers.   One professional said YES. while the other one said NO.

As a starting point, let’s review three recent surveys that will set the stage:1.

  1. Do Consumers Compare Costs

44%    Did Not Try

33%    Checked one price

21%    Compared Prices

2%      No Answer

Source:  Public Agenda 2014 telephone survey

2.  Consumers Want Information About Healthcare

(The percentage of consumers saying they are NOT satisfied with information available)

                                                                                                            Household Income

Question                                                      Under $50K               Over $50k

Hospital costs before the visit                            56%                                    4

Cost of medicines                                                   49%                                    45%

Understanding medical Billing                            54%                                    44

Outpatient costs before the visit                       51%                                    41%

General Health Information                                27%                                    23%

When to see a Doctor                                           26%                                    23

Doctors’ professional experience                      28%                                    21%


Source:  Altarum Institute June-August 2016 survey

3.  High Cost patients give up on shopping

A recent survey by Aon Hewitt of 2500 consumers with health insurance through a wide range of employers indicated that more than 33% have given up trying to find what they should pay for healthcare services.

The following are the responses of the professionals:


The Healthcare professional responding YES, when asked about “How to Find Healthcare Costs.”

Response 1:  Turn to your physician for help

Ask about lower cost tests….the doctor may recommend less expensive tests or monitor the condition.

Ask about medications that are less expensive.

Ask about free drug samples.

Ask about generic drugs.

Response 2:  Find pricing tools to check on tests

Do a Google search to find the cost of your test

Ask about a cash price; it could be lower than your out of pocket cost

Consumers will make decisions based on personal communication rather than cost

Response 3:  No consumer incentives?         

Consumers have little to no incentive to shop costs…not so with ever increasing deductibles

Consumers need to shop to create healthcare consumerism to spur providers to be more competitive

The Healthcare professional responding NO when asked about “How to Find Healthcare Costs.”

Response 1:  Healthcare is a complex system

Consumers are mainly “patients” with time sensitive needs

Consumers are asked to make complicated decisions

Less thn 15% of Americans can answer questions about basic healthcare insurance components

Fewer than 5% of the healthcare consumers use healthcare shopping tools

Consumers want less choices than more knowing they are receiving good care

Consumers have limited incentives to shop costs; typical consumers will save very little

Response 2:  Insurance benefit structure vary

Insurance benefits drive any potential savings

Consumers may live in areas with limited healthcare provider choices

Response 3:  No simple answer for the consumer

Prices vary from procedure to procedure/provider to provider

Medication costs can be complex to manage as well

Most consumers are not researching and making choices


Both professionals bring up very good points both pro and con.

The main theme in both responses is that the consumer is becoming more involved in their healthcare choices.   Consumers are asking questions and are seeking out more usable information.  In addition, the consumer needs to start understanding and planning for their healthcare needs.

Healthcare Consumer Navigator Center is a national company with a business mission to guide consumers through the complex healthcare system by providing a web site with comprehensive information and education materials.  Healthcare Consumers will be provided tools, guides, information, and education to navigate the complexities of the healthcare systems.

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