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New Research: Americans Still Searching for How Much Their Care Will Cost

Contact: Michele McEvoy, 212-292-7293, mcevoy@nyshealth.org

National survey and surveys in New York State, Florida, Texas, and New Hampshire point to a need for more actionable price information

April 6, 2017 (New York) – Americans are trying to find out how much their health care will cost, according to a newly-released national survey with supplemental surveys in New York State, Florida, Texas, and New Hampshire. As Americans increasingly bear a significant share of their health care costs out of pocket, research from Public Agenda, funded by the New York State Health Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that some people are using price information to save money, but more work needs to be done to achieve widespread adoption and use of price information.

“With life's essentials, such as housing, education and health care, becoming unaffordable for many Americans, we need to find ways to help contain these costs,” said Will Friedman, President of Public Agenda. “That’s why we were happy to conduct this research in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New York State Health Foundation. While price transparency alone is not enough to make health care affordable, it does have the potential to help people manage their health spending and save some money.” 

The research found that:

  • Fifty percent of Americans have tried to find out how much their health care would cost them before getting care. Similarly, about half of New York State residents—48 percent—have tried to find price information. In other states, an even greater percentage of people have tried to find price information: 56 percent of Floridians, 57 percent of New Hampshire residents and 59 percent of Texans.
     
  • Just over half of people who compared prices saved money. Most people who tried to find price information did not actually compare multiple providers’ prices.  But of the one in five Americans who tried to compare prices when they sought price information, 53 percent say they saved money.
     
  • Despite recent efforts by insurers, state governments, employers and other entities to make health care price information more easily available, 63 percent of Americans say there is not enough information about how much medical services cost. 
     
  • Most Americans don’t think saving money on health care means skimping on quality. Seventy percent of Americans say higher prices are not a sign of better quality care.
     
  • Websites are not the most commonly used source for price information. Online health care price information tools have proliferated in recent years. But among the 50 percent of Americans who have tried to find health care price information, websites are not the most commonly used source. Fifty-five percent of people who have tried to find price information asked a friend, relative or colleague, and 48 percent contacted their insurance company by phone or used their insurer’s website to find prices. Just under half of people who tried to find price information asked their doctor, and roughly the same percent asked a receptionist or other staff in their doctor’s office. Only 20 percent used the internet other than their insurance company’s website.
     
  • A surprising number of people do not know that providers charge different prices for the same services. Just under half of Americans are aware that hospitals’ prices can vary, and just under half are aware that doctors’ prices can vary.


“Timely, reliable price information is more important than ever before, especially as consumers—burdened by rising out-of-pocket costs—are increasingly expected to shop around for health care services,” said David Sandman, Ph.D., President and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation. “New Yorkers mirror the rest of the country in needing pricing information from trusted or independent sources. Doctors, employers, health plans and state governments all have a role to play to make price information more transparent so that patients and their families can seek and receive high-quality, affordable care.”

The research also found that, with many states considering whether to make prices more transparent, 80 percent of Americans agree that it is important for their state governments to provide comparative price information. Most also say that it is a good idea for doctors and their staffs to discuss prices with patients, although few people have actually discussed prices with their providers.

“In order for any of us to make informed decisions that meet our own health care goals and needs, we must have clear and transparent information. And while price information is just one part of that equation, this research points to a real and important gap between what people want and what they have access to,” said Andrea Ducas, MPH, program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Price transparency is a critical part of making the health care system more accountable to the people it is serving.” 

Survey findings are summarized in the new report, "Still Searching: How People Use Health Care Price Information in the United States, New York State, Florida, Texas, and New Hampshire.” The research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New York State Health Foundation. Findings are based on a nationally representative survey of 2,062 U.S. adults and on representative surveys of 802 adults in New York State, 808 adults in Texas, 819 adults in Florida and 826 adults in New Hampshire, all conducted in July to September 2016, as well as on focus groups in Texas and New Hampshire. The report from Public Agenda updates a 2015 report, which was the first nationally representative survey of how Americans seek and use health care price information.


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About Public Agenda
Public Agenda helps build a democracy that works for everyone. By elevating a diversity of voices, forging common ground, and improving dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities, Public Agenda fuels progress on critical issues, including education, health care and community engagement. Founded in 1975, Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in New York City. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org, on Facebook at facebook.com/PublicAgenda and on Twitter at @PublicAgenda.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

About the New York State Health Foundation
The New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth) is a private, statewide foundation dedicated to improving the health of all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable. Today, NYSHealth concentrates its work in two strategic priority areas: building healthy communities and empowering health care consumers. The Foundation is committed to making grants, informing health policy and practice, spreading effective programs to improve the health care system and the health of New Yorkers, serving as a neutral convener of health leaders across the State, and providing technical assistance to its grantees and partners. Find NYSHealth online at www.nyshealth.org and on Twitter at @nys_health.