Knowing prices tied to lower healthcare spending

Knowing prices tied to lower healthcare spending

(Reuters Health) – People who search and compare the prices of common healthcare services tend to spend a bit less than people who don’t, according to a new study.

The overall amount of money people and their employers spent on office visits, laboratory services and imaging tests was between 350 and 5 less than normal when they looked up the prices ahead of time, researchers found.

“It makes sense,” said the study’s lead author Christopher Whaley, from the University of California, Berkeley. “If you give them the information on services, they respond to it.”

He and his colleagues write in JAMA that people are paying a bit more of their own healthcare costs after recent changes to the U.S. healthcare insurance market.

“As patients have an increasing responsibility to pay for their care, they will likely demand access to prices charged for their care,” they write.

Several state and federal initiatives encourage or require greater access to healthcare prices in hopes that it would reduce overall costs. But few studies have looked at the possible effects of so-called price transparency.

For the new study, Whaley and his coauthors used data from over 500,000 people who were insured through 18 self-insured private companies. The employees had access to healthcare prices over the Internet, mobile devices and by telephone through a service known as Castlight Health.

Whaley and several of the study’s other authors are employed by Castlight.

For office visits, laboratory services and imaging tests, the researchers looked to see whether patients’ searches for prices made a difference to the total amount the patient and employer ultimately paid.

The study involved 253,757 households altogether. Of those households, 7,485 searched for prices on laboratory services, 2,148 for imaging tests and 51,481 for office visits.

They found that about 6 percent of laboratory searches matched a service received, as did about 7 percent of imaging tests and 27 percent of office visits.

Compared to people who didn’t search for the healthcare services they received, those who did spent about 14 percent less on laboratory services, 13 percent less on imaging tests and about 1 percent less on office visits.

Those differences represent an average
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