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Ever Tried To Price-Shop For A Doctor? Study Confirms That's Difficult

Money in medical field
Money in medical field

Kentuckians who feel going to the doctor is too expensive — but don’t know how to shop for the lowest price — aren't alone.

A new study published earlier this week in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs found very few respondents tried to find the lowest-cost doctor or surgery. And despite being price conscious when it comes to medical care, most don’t even know where to look for cost information or how to compare doctors.

“The difference between Americans’ willingness to price-shop for care and the rates at which they do so is striking,” the study authors from Harvard and the University of Southern California write.

The researchers sought out people with insurance plans that have a high deductible, which is an amount of money that a person has to pay before the plan will start paying. One-third of the 3,000 people surveyed had a deductible of $1,251 or more. One-third of respondents didn’t have a high deductible, and another one-third didn’t have health insurance at all.

In this pool, half of the people were aware of the price before they got care, while 13 percent of people had tried to figure out what their out-of-pocket spending would be. Ten percent considered going to another provider, and 3 percent were able to compare the cost of a service from different health providers.

The study authors said more people didn’t search for price information because it's not readily available.

“First, people do not know how to obtain price information," they wrote. "Despite the many state and private interventions to improve price transparency, few respondents in our study were aware of external resources they could use to obtain prices for different providers.”

People price-shopped for providers of physical therapy, lab tests and imaging most often compared to other types of doctor’s visits.

One reason people didn’t price-shop was because they wanted to keep their current doctors. Study authors suggest policy makers could look at specific types of medical care that aren’t as centered around a doctor and patient relationship.

The survey was conducted between February and March of 2015.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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