Transunion: Patients want clear bills and cost estimates, but few receive them

Patients want more accurate billing and price transparency from their providers, but still don't receive it, according to a new survey by Transunion Healthcare.

The poll of 7,382 households conducted by Transunion found that 17 percent are always confused about their out-of-pocket costs from providers, and 44 percent are sometimes confused by them. 

Yet clear billing is becoming a crucial component for consumers. "Patients equate billing accuracy with the same importance as they do bedside manner (of medical staff) when they are being treated," Transunion Healthcare President Gerry McCarthy said an exclusive interview with FierceHealthFinance at the Healthcare Financial Management Association annual national institute in Orlando, Florida.

Altogether, 80 percent of respondents said either would influence their decisions in choosing a particular clinician, according to the survey.

But at the moment, fewer than one-third of hospitals in the U.S. currently provide billing estimates, according to McCarthy. That's despite the fact that his company's data indicate nearly 80 percent of patients who receive accurate cost estimates will pay their bill in a timely manner.

According to the official survey stats, 31 percent of those living in high population states said they received cost estimates in advance without asking. In lower population states, that drops to 26 percent. Among those in high population states, 28 percent were given information about installment payment plans or other forms of financing for their care. That drops to 22 percent in smaller population states.

A survey released earlier this year by Transunion concluded that average costs for patients climbed by a double-digit percentage between 2013 and last year, while available credit for them to pay such bills decreased.

McCarthy believes that will change as more patients continue to be insured in high-deductible health plans where they bear a significant portion of the financial burden. But for the moment, price transparency is still the exception rather than the rule.

However, there could be another obstacle to such change: More than half of the respondents said they would look for new providers if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against premium subsidies in states that use the federal health insurance exchange in the King v. Burwell case, according to a statement.

To learn more:
- read the Transunion survey (registration required)
- check out the statement