That question in the title of this post is begged in the annual 2019 consumer survey released this week from UnitedHealthcare (UHC).

UHC gauges peoples’ views on health care, insurance, and costs in its yearly research. This year, transparency and health literacy challenges top the findings.

When the three in ten folks do shop, four in ten people used the internet or mobile apps to do so — a dramatic increase from 2012.

Shopping is most commonly done among Millennials, one-half of whom shop for health care services.

Of people who have used digital tools for health care shopping, 8 in ten found these experiences helpful.

As patients take on greater health cost financial risk — morphing people into health consumers and medical payors — more people are trying to comparison “shop” for care, both services and supplies (the latter focused on the patient-facing price of prescription drugs).

To that point, check out the second graphic from the UHC study. Among patients taking prescription drugs, two-thirds said they “never” know the cost of meds before they leave their doctor’s office. Only one in ten people always know how much their medicines will cost while still at the doctor’s.

Compounding this feeling of being out-of-the-financial-loop is the reality that two-thirds of patients don’t know what the phrase “out-of-pocket maximum” means, and only one in five people understand what “coinsurance” means.

Health literacy isn’t just about knowing “how” to take your meds when the doctor or nurse prescribes them to you, or how to hug that pillow after heart surgery to work out water retention.

The new layer of health literacy is financial, with another layer of digital. Without understanding how to use the on-ramps to digital tools that help price-compare and “shop,” patients can’t assume the mantle of “health consumer.” Nor can people take on full consumer chops without understanding their personal financial obligations for health care services and supplies.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  It’s no surprise given the picture painted by UHC’s 2019 study that consumers’ self-pay concerns “aren’t going away,” a new survey from the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) and Navigant found this week. This third chart summaries that finding through the eyes of health care Chief Financial Officers and revenue cycle managers.

Eight in ten of these executive say that consumer self-pay will (negatively) impact their organizations in 2019, up four percentage points in the past year.

All large hospital executives expect this to impact their institutions’ financial health.

Revenue-cycle management challenges are top-of-mind for all health care providers now — including family budgeting for the line team of health care spending in patients’ personal home economics.

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