Over 150 million Americans get their health insurance from their employer. More than 40% are enrolled in a high deductible health plan (HDHP)…ten years ago it was fewer than 15%. In the Individual marketplace, HDHPs are the norm. At a time when one-in-three Americans say healthcare is their biggest financial burden, plans with employee cost shifting have gone mainstream…and they’re not going away.
Healthcare’s shifting financial burden is forcing consumers to take a close look at their family budget. A quarter of Americans have avoided, postponed or refused medical treatment because of cost. The good news: out-of-pocket responsibilities are fueling the healthcare consumerism movement. Once consumers are responsible for spending health dollars out of their own wallet you have their attention. However, buying healthcare services—from insurance to prescription drugs to routine check-ups to MRIs—isn’t easy given health literacy disparities, providers’ control of resources, and inconsistent access to consumer-centric information.
Being a smart healthcare shopper able to make confident, value-based choices challenges every American. We’ve seen this with consumers’ reluctance to question their physician about cost or site of care. For example recent research on MRI scans, one of the easiest services to price compare, shows that if consumers shopped local MRI sites, price variation is significant and savings would be substantial. However, doctors’ suggestions proved to carry more weight with patients than the potential for savings, with most doctors referring to only a single MRI provider (often the higher-priced option operated by their affiliated hospital).
The retailization of healthcare is here to stay. A retail mindset means consumers compare products and services, ask friends, read and publish reviews, price check, and quickly cast aside brand loyalty for a better deal. Shopping for healthcare may not follow a traditional retail path-to-purchase, but for most Americans it’s one of the most important buying decisions they make. That’s where health care companies AND employers can play a critical role: create reliable, understandable information and decision support tools to help consumers and employees navigate healthcare’s massive maze of bureaucracy. Turn employees into savvy customers. Replace consumer healthcare insecurity with healthcare confidence.