High deductibles do not turn consumers into savvy shoppers

Imposing high deductibles on health plans does not, in fact, encourage individuals to shop around more for better healthcare prices, according to a new research letter from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Because of this finding, "there is a need for greater availability of price information and innovative approaches to enrollee engagement," the letter states.

The study outlined in the letter, which was based on an Internet-based survey of insured adults who had purchased medical care in the past year, found that only about 4 percent of consumers actually compared costs. Additionally, consumers in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) were no more likely to compare out-of-pocket cost differences for healthcare professionals than those enrolled in a non-HDHP.

The JAMA letter did note that there are limitations with Internet surveys, however, saying researchers were unable to survey the uninsured or enrollees who did not use medical care. 

Last fall, a research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that when employees were moved to from a no-cost-sharing health plan to high-deductible plan, they responded by using less healthcare services, rather than shopping around for lower-cost services.

Another report from Families USA found that out of adults with deductibles of $1,500 or more per person, nearly 30 percent went without needed care because they couldn't afford it. Additionally, the risk of not making coverage more affordable is that more individuals may choose not to purchase coverage since some exchange plans' high deductibles cause some consumers to decide they can't afford insurance after all.

To learn more:
- here is the JAMA research letter