Medical Prices Not Widely Available, Study Finds
Patients who seek self-pay medical procedures such as LASIK and cosmetic surgery face "significant barriers" to comparison shopping, with many relying on word-of-mouth recommendations to select their providers, according to a study in Health Affairs funded by the California HealthCare Foundation and conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change, CQ HealthBeat reports. Researchers looked at the markets for LASIK, in vitro fertilization, cosmetic rhinoplasty and dental crowns (CQ HealthBeat, 2/6).
They found that comparing prices is hard for consumers, in part because doctors often bundle different sets of services into their price quotes.
Report co-author Ha Tu, a senior researcher at HSC, said, "People want quality but they still don't know how to identify it." Tu added that although consumers may be willing to seek quality and cost comparisons, "the data just aren't there yet" for the mass market.
According to the Journal, the study sheds light on the "growing push" behind consumer-directed health plans, which rely largely on informed buyers (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 2/6).
In an accompanying Health Affairs article, HSC President Paul Ginsberg writes that efforts to increase price transparency often downplay "the complexity of decisions about medical care, patients' dependence on physicians for guidance about appropriate services and the need for information on quality" (CQ HealthBeat, 2/6).