“If price shopping is an important policy goal, it will be necessary to increase the availability of information on price and decrease the complexity of accessing the information,” the researchers wrote. They noted that patients trying to figure out pricing information and their share of the cost must often know specific procedures’ billing codes, the difference between professional fees and facility fees, and the details of how their insurance plan is structured.
“Our results emphasize that simply passing price transparency laws or regulations (as over half of states have done) appears insufficient to facilitate price shopping,” they added.
Most respondents said they did not think there was a relationship between lower cost and lower quality.
One reason for the lack of shopping activity may be that consumers value the ongoing relationship they have with an existing doctor and don’t want to disrupt that, said Neeraj Sood, professor of public policy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and one of the study’s authors.
Another possible explanation is that despite efforts by states, employers and insurers to make price information readily available, shopping for health care services is nowhere near as user-friendly and intuitive as buying something on Amazon or Expedia.
“Maybe right now these tools are so primitive that even though there is a financial incentive to shop, people aren’t doing it,” Sood said.
People surveyed were most likely to search out prices before going to a retail or urgent care clinic compared with other care facilities. Consumers who received physical therapy or lab and imaging services were more likely than others to comparison shop for providers, the survey found.
(Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.)