Few take advantage of healthcare price information

Despite concerted efforts by health officials and state governments to increase the public's access to healthcare cost information, few patients take advantage of it, according to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Of 1,506 adults surveyed by Kaiser, about two thirds reported they had difficulty locating information on the cost of medical treatment or procedures from specific doctors or hospitals. Patients also did not take advantage of such information even when they have access to it. Only about 6 percent of respondents incorporated publicly available quality information into their decisions about hospitals, doctors or insurers, according to the survey, and fewer than 9 percent incorporated pricing data. Only 3 percent used pricing information on specific physicians.

Despite these results, a March report found a majority of Americans seek information on healthcare costs and 21 percent of them used it to compare prices across multiple providers.

Why don't patients take advantage of this information? The Kaiser survey suggests an answer to that as well: many of them overestimate their capacity to handle medical expenses. Sixty-eight percent of respondents were at least somewhat confident they would be able to pay for their usual healthcare expenses, while 55 percent were confident they could handle a major illness requiring hospitalization.

Thirty percent of respondents, however, were not confident they could cover usual medical expenses, and 44 percent were not confident they could cover the costs of hospitalization from a major illness or injury, according to the survey. Respondents younger than 65 without insurance were far less likely to say they were confident than those under the age of 65 with insurance.

Moreover, fewer than half of respondents said that, in the event of an unexpected $500 medical bill, they would pay it immediately. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they would put such a bill on a credit card, borrow money to pay it or have no means of paying it. Only 25 percent of insured respondents thought they would be able to pay a $1,500 bill.

To learn more:
- read the survey results