Many patients are not being provided information on health care costs, particularly for emergency procedures, a new survey has found.
While some recent polls suggest patients want more information, it is not easy to access, and providers often are unable to provide it, according to the director of the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP), which commissioned the survey.
BIPP Director Amy Wolaver said that while patients may say they want information, when it comes to a hospital visit for a serious procedure, their main focus is not on price but getting healthy.
Nevertheless, health care prices are important, particularly when patients or consumers have high deductible plans, Wolaver said.
But hospitals, and doctors that send their patients to facilities for procedure, often cannot predict what is going to happen on pricing, Wolaver, an economics professor, told Patient Daily.
"Speaking as an economist, it is a complicated product," Wolaver said.
The survey of 1,200 health care consumers was carried out last month by YouGov on behalf of BIPP.
Just over one quarter of respondents requested information from providers and were most likely to do so for nonemergency needs such as doctor visits, outpatient services, screenings, the cost of drugs and dental care, according to the survey.
Many respondents that asked about prices were not able to get the information, and nearly a quarter of those that did ask were told it was not available, the survey found.
One recent survey suggested that 77 percent of health care consumers believe it is important to know the costs before treatment.
Wolaver said that people can say they care about price if they are healthy, but when something goes wrong they just want to receive the best treatment and are less likely to ask about cost.
High deductibles and co-payments also affect behavior, Wolaver said.
"One of the reasons why insurers have co-payments is so the patient responds by seeking less health care," Wolaver said.
She added, "When you are actually paying some of those bills, people do cut back on their health care. Probably cutting back on that care that does not matter, but also cut back on highly effective care."
The survey also found that insured Americans are more likely to request price data than those without insurance, 29 percent compared to 19 percent. Lower income families were less likely to request prices than higher-income families, 23 percent to 33 percent.
Asked what can be done to raise the number of price-conscious consumers, Wolaver said that one simple way is to talk to the doctor about lower cost alternatives to suggestions he or she is making. But it is hard for providers to know what the end cost will be for anything other than simple procedures such as an annual lab screen, making it more difficult for patients to know what the final price tag on their hospital bill will be.