Goal of Price-Savvy CDHP Shoppers Still Largely Unfulfilled

November 29, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Even though convincing employees to become savvy price-conscious consumers of health services has been a key underpinning of the consumer directed health plan (CDHP) movement, a new survey found that the goal may still be mostly unrealized.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of enrollees in CDHPs and traditional plans found that relatively few in CDHPs said they have used their plan’s Web site to compare prices across providers (5%) or to compare quality across providers (7%) – essentially the same low rates of comparison shopping reported by those in traditional plans, according to a Kaiser news release.

Kaiser researchers said the low level of enrollee shopping around may reflect lack of interest on the part of patients or the absence of easily-accessible price and quality information in today’s health care system.

Most CDHP enrollees surveyed said it is difficult to find trustworthy information about the cost of health care provided by doctors (61%) and hospitals (64%), according to the news release. Half said the same about quality information for those providers.

Prescription drug shopping is an exception, with people in consumer-directed plans somewhat more likely than those in traditional plans to say they used the Internet to shop for drugs (19% vs. 10%).

Cost on Enrollees’ Minds

Saying that the overall picture of CDHP enrollee behavior was “mixed,” the Kaiser survey found positive signs that cost was at least on minds of CDHP enrollees. Enrollees surveyed appeared more likely to ask their doctors and other providers about costs than those in more traditional employer-sponsored health plans.

Compared to people with traditional health insurance, those in CDHPs were more likely to say they always or sometimes ask about the cost of a doctor’s visit before making an appointment (39% vs. 23%) or that they always or sometimes ask about less costly alternatives (57% vs. 38%).

More than half of CDHP enrollees who have used any services under their plans said being in such a plan has changed their approach to using health care. Of those, 57% said their approach changed due to cost considerations.

According to the news release, a measure of the attractiveness of consumer-driven plans may be enrollees’ readiness to vote with their feet. Half (50%) of CDHP enrollees surveyed said they would be likely to switch plans if given the opportunity, compared with one third of those in traditional plans. Thirty percent of those in consumer-directed plans said they would try to switch plans if they developed a chronic condition that required more care – twice the percentage of those with traditional coverage (15%).

The survey also looked at enrollees’ reports of delaying and skipping needed care for cost reasons, and found CDHP enrollees were twice as likely to say they needed medical care in the past year but did not get it due to costs (23% vs. 11%).

In terms of demographics, Kaiser found CDHP enrollees on average are healthier, wealthier and better educated than those with traditional insurance.

The survey of 1,389 people was conducted in June and July and included 272 respondents who are enrolled in consumer-directed health plans and 715 with more traditional employer-sponsored insurance.

More information is here .