Harvard study finds consumer price shopping doesn't lower healthcare costs

If consumers could compare healthcare prices, would they choose the lower option? A recent study published in JAMA suggests not.

Two national employers decided in 2011 and 2012 to offer employees an online healthcare price transparency tools to help them shop for lower prices, thinking if employees had all the information, they would choose lower cost options, ultimately lowering healthcare spending overall.

The online tool offered information on out-of-pocket costs at various physician offices, hospitals and clinical sites. Comparing the group of employees with access to the tool to a control group that did not have access, researchers found outpatient out-of-pocket spending increased for both groups between the year before the tool was offered and the year the tool launched. After adjusting for relevant factors, those who had access to the price transparency tool had a mean increase in out-of-pocket spending of $18 year-over-year. That said, just 10 percent of the patients who had access to the tool actually used it in the first 12 months it was offered, the researchers found.

It is possible the employees felt higher prices were associated with higher quality, or that not enough used the tool to get a true sense of the market dynamics.


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