HDHP Participants Not Being the Consumers They Should Be

Researchers say more can be done to encourage consumer behaviors and make them more helpful for participants in high-deductible health plans.

While the move to high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) is meant to reduce employer health benefit costs, it also has the goal of helping employees reduce their own health care costs by becoming better consumers of health care.

However, research published on The JAMA Network found few individuals enrolled in HDHPs in the United States are engaging in consumer behaviors, and those that are could be realizing more benefits.

Of the 1,637 participants in the research, the most common consumer behavior was saving for future health services (40%), followed by talking with a provider about the cost of a service (25%), comparing prices (14%), comparing quality (14%), and trying to negotiate a price for a service (6%). Prescription drugs and outpatient visits were the most common services for which individuals engaged in a consumer behavior.

The most common reported result of saving for health services (53%), comparing quality (52%), and discussing cost with a provider (45%) was help with getting a needed service. The most common reported result of comparing prices (45%) and trying to negotiate a lower price (52%) was paying less for a service.

The researchers say there are a number of ways in which consumer behaviors could be encouraged among and made more helpful to individuals enrolled in HDHPs. Providers could help patients anticipate services that they may need in the future so that patients can try to save for them. Health systems could make prices for services available at the point of care to facilitate patient and clinician conversations about cost. In addition, employers and insurers could go beyond disseminating price information to help patients learn how to use this information in health care decisions.

“Such efforts will become increasingly important as enrollment in HDHPs continues to increase and could become essential if modifications to the structure or implementation of the Affordable Care Act accelerate patients’ exposure to high cost sharing,” the researchers conclude.