Study: Americans Need Better Health Care Info

July 28, 2005 ( - While Americans are apparently agreeable to becoming more active in their own health care, they need more education on the issue to make better treatment choices, a new study found.

A Great-West Healthcare news release about the company’s Consumer Attitudes Toward Health Care study said the research found that 63% of respondents who themselves or a close family member received treatment for a serious health issue in the past two years, did not know the size of the bill until after treatment was received, and 10% revealed they never found out the cost.

Further, more than two-thirds (67%) of consumers spend more than eight hours researching the purchase of an automobile, but fewer than four in 10 spend the amount of time looking into a doctor (38%) or health plan (34%). On average, participants were able to predict the price of a Honda Accord within $300, but were off by $8,100 on a four-day hospital stay, according to the study.

In terms of costs, consumers know they are rising, but do not feel they can control those expenses. Nine out of 10 (90%) believe the cost of health care is rising and more than half (52%) say that increase is greater than 10% annually. Just like increases in consumer goods such as gasoline and a movie ticket, 61% expect health care costs to increase and four out of five (80%) feel they cannot control the rise.

Quality proved more important than cost for many respondents. Only 4% see cost as the most important factor in selecting a hospital, while two-thirds (65%) see quality as the most important factor. Even convenience/location was seen as the most important factor by 9% of respondents.

“The results point to the fact that consumers are not saving for future health care needs and do not have a solid understanding of the actual cost of care,” said Cindy Donohoe, vice president of marketing and product development at Great-West Healthcare, in the news release. “It is important that employers who are planning to offer consumer-driven plans understand this reality. With the proper decision-making resources, such plans can engage people in making more informed health care choices.”

Quality and Cost

According to Great-West, the respondents also noted that quality varies and is not necessarily related to cost. Nearly half perceived major differences in quality of hospitals (45%) and doctors (49%). Three out of four (77%) say they try to get the highest quality of care regardless of cost, yet 83% believe that less expensive medical treatments can be just as effective as more expensive options.

The survey also found that respondents are evenly split between wanting a higher premium and a lower deductible (50%) versus a lower premium and a higher deductible (50%). Fifty-four percent say they are likely to put aside money in the next year for future health care needs, yet 39% say they have no money set aside now, and in addition, 17% have less than $1,000 set aside for future health care needs.

The national study was conducted in the United States via telephone by Harris Interactive. It reflects responses of 2,000 US adults, ranging in age from 18 to 64 years old, who are covered by employer-sponsored health plans and are key decision makers about health insurance in their households.