Price transparency doesn't cut healthcare spending

Expanding healthcare price transparency didn't prompt lower outpatient spending, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers, led by Sunita Desai, Ph.D., a research fellow in healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School, analyzed an online cost calculator offered by Truven Health Analytics that provides out-of-pocket cost listings for services such as outpatient surgeries, doctor visits or lab tests. Desai and her team compared 149,000 employees of two national companies who were offered the tool compared to 296,000 employees from other companies who did not have access.

The analysis found no association between access to the tool and lower outpatient spending, nor did those employees with access to the tool favor lower-cost settings over outpatient hospital care. Analyzing only those patients with higher deductibles, who have more of an incentive to price-shop, produced similar results.

"Despite large variation in healthcare prices, prevalence of high-deductible health plans and widespread interest in price transparency, we did not find evidence that offering price transparency to employees generated savings," Desai said in a statement.

Researchers identified several potential explanations for the findings. For example, only about 1 in 10 employees with access to the tool took advantage of it, and most used it to look up more expensive services that exceeded their deductibles, giving them little reason to choose a less expensive provider option.

Although the tools involved in the research were heavily advertised, healthcare payers must make more effort to promote such tools, according to research published in Health Affairs in April, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. Meanwhile, research shows the average consumer doesn't associate price and care quality.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the statement