Why aren’t high-deductible plan enrollees shopping around?

We have talked before about the importance of shopping around for healthcare, but a new study found that people who are enrolled in high-deductible health insurance plans are not comparing healthcare providers for better prices – even though experts expected them to be savvier consumers. Why is this? “I think there are two obstacles, convenience and continuity of care,” Neeraj Sood of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles told Reuters. “If I want to shop for healthcare right now, it’s incredibly difficult to do that,” Sood said. “Most people don’t know what prices are charged by different providers, they would have to call the offices. Some people have access to Internet-based tools that employers provide, but they can be incomplete, giving price but not quality. And they don’t allow you to purchase on that website.”

Even though high-deductible healthcare plans have lower premiums, enrollees have to pay more out-of-pocket when they need medical attention. Instead of looking for better prices, these patients may be spending less simply because they are using less healthcare. “We thought that we would see greater price shopping, we didn’t expect to find no difference at all,” Sood said. Researchers polled over 1,800 adult Americans aged 18-64 who used healthcare last year. Some 1,000 were enrollees in high deductible coverage plans, while 852 were enrolled in other plans. Most believed that price and quality of care vary depending on the provider, and also that higher prices do not equal better care. Over 50% said out-of-pocket expenses were an important factor when choosing care.

However, only 10% of both high-deductible enrollees and those enrolled in other plans thought about going to another healthcare provider. Moreover, only 3%-4% compared out-of-pocket differences by provider. High-deductible plan enrollees are not shopping around though it seems common knowledge that doing so can result in lower prices and improved care. “High-deductible health plans take advantage of an irrationally designed health care system,” associate editor of JAMA Internal Medicine Dr. Joseph S. Ross of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut wrote in an accompanying editorial. “In fact, information about our health care system is asymmetric in that it is better understood by physicians and less so by patients, which means patients obtaining care are not truly informed decision makers.”

For example, if patients and not doctors owned their medical records, they might be able to determine whether their records could be easily transferred to a different provider. “If you are enrolled in a high-deductible plan, check if your employer or health plan offers a price compare tool,” Sood advised. “The verdict is still out on high deductible plans. They save money at the healthcare system level, but there’s not enough evidence that they enable people to make smarter or value-based decisions. That’s the promise they were sold on.” People who are worried about out-of-pocket costs should check out Discount Medical Supplies. Although this medical supplies store does not accept healthcare insurance, savvy consumers are nonetheless known for buying medical supplies online at DMS.

Related: How to avoid paying up to 10x more for prescription drugs