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High Deductibles Do Not Make Enrollees Better Health Care Consumers

February 02, 2016

People enrolled in high-deductible health plans are no better at shopping for health care services than people enrolled in traditional insurance, according to a new study from the University of Southern California and Harvard University.

The findings fail to align with a common selling point for high-deductible plans — that they provide a way for consumers to take more control in managing medical costs. About 1 in 4 US employees and up to 80% of people insured through the health care exchanges are currently enrolled in such plans.

“The main message of our research is this: Giving skin in the game or giving people financial incentives is not enough to prompt people to become better consumers of health care,” said co-author Neeraj Sood, PhD, director of research, Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California.

Researchers surveyed 1099 people enrolled in high-deductible plans and 852 people enrolled in traditional plans. Among high-deductible plan enrollees, 60% believed there are big differences in prices across health care providers, but just 17% thought higher-priced physicians provide superior care. Just over 70% considered out-of-pocket costs an important factor in choosing a health care provider.

People enrolled in traditional plans had similar views, results showed.

Moreover, people enrolled in high-deductible plans were no more likely than people in traditional plans to have considered going to a different health care provider (11% vs 10%) or to have compared out-of-pocket costs across health care providers (4% vs 3%) during their last use of medical care.

Dr Sood cited two major barriers hindering people from shopping for health care services.

“For one, it is a hassle and very difficult to get good information about the prices … of care by doctors, labs, or other services. And two, when it comes to doctors and services, people are concerned about quality of care, but there is not much information available about quality,” he said.

“They seem to want to price-shop, but they’re just not doing it.”—Jolynn Tumolo

ReferencePeople on high-deductible health plans aren’t better health-care shoppers [press release]. Newswise: Charlottesville, VA; Jan. 27, 2016.

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