Vast majority of consumers don't use healthcare price transparency tools, study shows

Price transparency tools are effective in helping consumers find the best prices for healthcare services – but only if consumers actually use them.

Unfortunately, as a new study published in Sage Journals concludes, the percentage of Americans who use these tools to shop for better healthcare deals is extremely low.

As Healthcare Finance News Associate Editor Jeff Lagasse reports, the study tracked use of the Truven Treatment Cost Calculator by more than 70,000 families from 2011-12.

“Researchers found that only 11 percent of families used the price transparency tool at least once,” Lagasse writes. “A scant 1 percent used it at least three times over that two-year period.”

Yet those consumers who did use the Truven cost calculator were more likely to pay less for certain services, the data shows. But because so few took advantage of the tool, Lagasse says, “overall spending remains high.”

These results mirror those of several other research studies on consumer use of healthcare price transparency tools. As the New York Times reported last December, “the vast majority of plans now provide pricing information to enrollees, but only 2 percent of them look at it. Aetna offers a price transparency tool to 94 percent of its commercial market enrollees, but only 3.5 percent use it.”

Those consumers who do you price comparison tools, however, tend to do so again. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 82 percent of “people who have compared healthcare prices say they will do so again.”

Previous studies were conducted in the early years of the Affordable Care Act, when consumers were just getting used to researching and selecting healthcare plans, so the percentage of Americans who are taking advantage of price transparency may have increased in more recent years, especially as more providers have become open about prices, either for competitive reasons or because they are required to under laws passed in their states that require price disclosure.

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