According to a recent study in JAMA, the answer may be no. High-deductible health plans aim to not only reduce the use of unnecessary services, but to make consumers more price sensitive and search for high quality, low priced care. The latter goal, however, depends crucially on whether patients have access to information on accurate price information and whether they will actually use that information in selecting their health care providers.
A study by Desai et al. (2016) examines what happens when two employers offer their employees a price transparency tools indicating both the total cost of the service and the patient’s expected out of pocket cost. They use a difference-in-difference approach and find:
Mean outpatient out-of-pocket spending among those offered the tool was $507 in the year before introduction of the tool and $555 in the year after. Among the comparison group, mean outpatient out-of-pocket spending changed from $490 to $520. Being offered the price transparency tool was associated with a mean $18 (95% CI, $12-$25) increase in out-of-pocket spending after adjusting for relevant factors. In the first 12 months, 10% of employees who were offered the tool used it at least once.
Patients may be more interested in using price transparency tools if culture changes and this becomes the norm. In the short-run, however, patients do not appear to access or use information on the price of healthcare very often.
- Desai S, Hatfield LA, Hicks AL, Chernew ME, Mehrotra A. Association Between Availability of a Price Transparency Tool and Outpatient Spending. JAMA. 2016;315(17):1874-1881. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.4288.