Mehrotra highlights role of consumers in health care

August 4, 2017


Americans extol price shopping for health care as a prudent idea, yet few actually do it even when given the means to, according to the findings of two separate studies led by investigators at Harvard Medical School.

Results of the two analyses, published in the August issue of Health Affairs, cast doubt on the increasingly popular notion that empowering consumers to price shop could help stem the tide of rising healthcare spending, the research team said.

“The idea is that if you give consumers good information about prices—and make sure they have ‘skin in the game’ through high deductibles or co-pays—they will choose lower-priced providers and services, and market forces will drive spending and prices down,” said Ateev Mehrotra, a health care economist and physician in the HMS Department of Health Care Policy. “That’s the theory. We wanted to see how it works in reality. Turns out, reality is a bit more complicated than that.”

One study, which analyzed utilization of a comparison shopping tool by consumers, revealed that few used the tool to choose lower-cost options. Offering the tool resulted in no difference in the net cost of care at the population level.

The other study, a national survey of people’s attitudes toward comparison shopping for health services and their shopping behaviors, showed that while the majority favored price shopping, a mere 3 percent actually compared prices across providers.