Patient advocates and regulators at every level decry that a lack of price transparency often leads to patients getting bigger bills than they expected after leaving a doctor’s office. However, a new study published in Health Affairs calls the actual value of price transparency tools into question—if for no other reason than it’s unclear how often patients would actually use such a tool. Researchers looked at how a population of Aetna members fared using that company’s Member Payment Estimator, which provides real-time, personalized, episode-level price estimates, between 2011 and 2012.  They saw a slight uptick in use of the tool over that time, but classified overall use of the tool as “low.” Relatively healthy patients between the ages of 19 and 34 who received any of several outpatient procedures, imaging services, or who delivered a child—all of which could be planned in advance—were the most likely to use the tool. They also incurred higher annual deductible spending than those who did not use the tool. The authors conjectured that those same patients are more comfortable using social media and online resources, both of which are key tools for seeking out price information in the absence of a tool. Conversely, providers trying to promote themselves on a cost-efficiency basis to other demographic groups might be advised to find another medium to do so.

Despite Cost Complaints, Patients Don’t Use Price Transparency Tools
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