UnitedHealth survey: More shop around for healthcare, but insurance literacy falls short

young woman working on laptop

While more American consumers are taking advantage of tech tools to comparison shop for healthcare, they still lack basic knowledge about health insurance and dread selecting a health benefits plan.

A new survey from UnitedHealth details those and other findings, offering both positive signs for consumer engagement and areas that suggest health insurers have more work to do as they look to improve their members' experience.

Indeed, “this survey underscores why UnitedHealthcare is working to simplify the healthcare experience for people and help them take full advantage of their healthcare benefits,” Rebecca Madsen, UnitedHealthcare chief consumer officer, said in an announcement.

Here’s a look at some of the survey’s key findings:


  • Nearly a third of respondents have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to compare the cost of medical services, which is more than double the rate in 2012. The uptick was most significant among young people.
  • Among all comparison shoppers, 81 percent described the process of using online or mobile resources as “very” or “somewhat” helpful.
  • Fifty-six percent of survey respondents who are employed full time said they would be interested in using a wearable fitness tracker as part of a workplace wellness program.
  • Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they were “very" or “somewhat" likely to use telemedicine to access healthcare services.


  • Only 7 percent of respondents could successfully define all four basic health insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum. Consumers had the most trouble defining co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum.
  • Many survey respondents underestimated the actual cost of specific healthcare services. For a knee replacement procedure, for example, 63 percent estimated the cost to be lower than the national average of $35,000, and only 11 percent answered correctly.
  • The task of selecting a health plan is not one that consumers relish, as 25 percent would rather file their annual income taxes. And 28 percent said having to review their health benefits during open enrollment would be worse than the hassle of losing their mobile phone.

In addition, despite the increased uptake of tech tools by consumers, 78 percent of respondents preferred speaking with a customer service representative to resolve an issue or ask a question--the clear winner over email, online chat or mobile app. When customers do speak to a representative, 30 percent ranked the person’s knowledge as the most important factor of the experience.