Study: Insurers must do more to promote use of price transparency tools

A new study that evaluates Aetna's price transparency tool offers a window into which customers use these tools, how they use them and how insurers might want to structure their efforts to encourage more use of such tools among their plan members.

The study, published in the April issue of Health Affairs, looked at how nonelderly adult enrollees insured at Aetna used its Member Payment Estimator, focusing several analyses on a set of 24 services for which price estimates were available. It then identified the association between individual characteristics and use of the tool.

The study found that in 2010, the first year the tool was available, 1.6 percent of Aetna enrollees queried the price tool, and that increased to 2.4 percent in the second year, with the majority of them first-time users. Overall, those who used the tool were more likely to have had at least one medical claim during the year. Enrollees who used the tool were also more likely to be women.

Among patients who had an imaging service, childbirth or one of several select outpatient procedures, those who searched for price information were significantly more likely to be younger and healthier and to have incurred higher annual deductible spending than patients who did not search for price information. 

It will be increasingly important for insurers to encourage older and sicker patients to use the tool, the study says, as these indviduals are more likely to be high-volume users of care. The researchers call for increased education to raise awareness of the tools insurers have made available, saying payers should do more to engage consumers in shopping for the best price option. 

While that may be easier said than done, the solution may lie in using providers as navigators for price shopping. "Such an approach could improve the timing of the information delivery and allow price information to be coupled with information on the risks and benefits of the service and, potentially, comparative quality information," the researchers write.

To learn more:
- read the study (subscription required)

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