Most Consumers Don't Ask About the Price of Health Care Services

How interested are consumers in the price of health care services? Results from our Consumer Opinion survey indicate that most consumers have never asked about the price of a health care service before getting care.  Fewer than 30 percent asked about price in the past year. Findings like these suggest that consumers are not in the habit of inquiring about cost. Some reasons for this include: not being motivated to ask about price (because someone else pays), not feeling comfortable asking about price, or not feeling certain as to where to get the information. Looking more closely at what influences consumers to ask about price, our survey asked about the individual’s financial responsibility for services. As one might expect, those who paid more for care (through higher deductibles) were much more likely to ask about price.  What are the implications for consumer-directed plans? See our latest research brief for more.

For additional information, view our on-the-street consumer video interviews:

Family Fees Interviews. In this video segment, consumers are asked how much health insurance costs for a family of four on average. Some are very knowledgeable about costs, while others are very unsure. The range of guesses is quite large, varying almost tenfold.

Care Is Costly interviews. In this video segment, consumers are asked how much specific health care services costs. Guesses about the cost of appendix removal vary widely, from less than $1,000 to “astronomical.” Guesses about the cost of an ambulance ride vary tenfold, and some report fees from personal experience.


Thank you, Dr. Lynch. We moved our staff, including me, to a CDHP in 2002. On my first visit to a clinic physician, I quietly asked about the pricing for scheduled imaging procedures. I was shuffled into a side room and joined by a friendly, professional staffer who began asking me some questions. After a few moments, I realized that this staffer was the one assigned to "difficult" patients! (I had served as administrative director for patient complaints at a regional hospital earlier in my career.)
This story, although a bit old now, helps frame some of the challenges in a Balkanized, third-party, highly-capitalized health care system. We've seen progress since 2002...but more work needs to be done. Thank you for raising this important issue and for the insights in your post.

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