UnitedHealthcare survey: Insurance literacy remains an issue for consumers; patients leery on telehealth

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Millennials are taking the most to online and mobile health options, according to a new survey.

A significant number of Americans comparison shop for healthcare services, but limited health literacy may keep them from understanding what they're shopping for, according to a new survey. 

UnitedHealthcare released the results (PDF) of its annual consumer survey and found that nearly a third of respondents (32%) comparison shop for healthcare treatments, procedures and services, but few had a grasp on basic health insurance concepts. Just 9% of respondents could define all four basic insurance concepts outlined by the survey: insurance premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum. 

Some of the people surveyed were also unclear on how insurance networks work. Thirty-six percent said that they thought visiting an in-network provider would increase their care costs, while 24% thought it would have no impact on cost. 

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People also frequently overestimate the cost of common medical tests but underestimate the price for more complex surgical procedures, according to the survey. Only 4% of respondents could correctly estimate the cost of a knee MRI, and only 10% could guess the correct price for a knee replacement. 

The average price nationwide for a knee replacement is $36,000, but the majority of respondents (63%) estimated between $5,000 and $25,000. 

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The survey also examined consumers' affinity for and use of healthcare technology. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said either the internet or mobile apps are their first source for information about health conditions or symptoms, an increase from 25% in 2016's survey. 

Adoption rates are highest for millennials, with 36% saying they use tech as a primary source for health information. Meanwhile, just 20% of baby boomers surveyed said the same. Nearly half (44%) of millennials said they comparison shop online for healthcare services. 

Despite the growing focus on telemedicine, 46% said they would be unlikely to use telehealth services, compared to 42% who said they'd be likely to do so. Twenty-nine percent said they would be very unlikely to use the technology, while just 16% said they would be very likely to. 

The survey included responses from more than 1,000 people ages 18 and older.