The New York Times
July 30, 2018
Each year, for well over a decade, more people have faced higher health insurance deductibles. The theory goes like this: The more of your own money that you have to spend on health care, the more careful you will be — buying only necessary care, purging waste from the system.
But that theory doesn’t fully mesh with reality: High deductibles aren’t working as intended.
A body of research — including randomized studies — shows that people do in fact cut back on care when they have to spend more for it. The problem is that they don’t cut only wasteful care. They also forgo the necessary kind. This, too, is well documented, including with randomized studies.
People don’t know what care they need, which is why they consult doctors. There’s nothing inherently wrong with relying on doctors for medical advice. They’re trained experts, after all. But it runs counter to the growing trend to encourage people to make their own judgments about which care, at what level of quality, is worth the price — in other words, to shop for care.
Shopping for health care may sound ludicrous on its face — and sometimes is. People don’t have time, let alone the cognitive focus, to shop for treatments while having a heart attack, or during any other emergency.
But not all care we need is related to an emergency. Some care is elective, and so potentially “shoppable.” Scholars have estimated that as much as 30 or 40 percent of care falls into this category. It includes things like elective joint replacements and routine checkups.
And yet very few people shop for this type of care, even when they’re on the hook for the bill. Maybe it’s just too complex. Even when price transparency tools are offered to consumers to make it easier, almost nobody uses those them.