- Consumers have become more concerned about healthcare costs and rising patient financial responsibility than they are about paying for other services in their lives, according to a recent survey from patient advocacy group Consumers for Quality Care (CQC).
The survey of nearly 1,700 adult patients found that 85 percent are concerned about their medical costs. In contrast, 73 percent reported concerns about retirement, 73 percent about higher education, 66 percent about housing, and 49 percent about child care.
These results came as a surprise to survey administrators, who noted that more patients than ever have health payer coverage. Patients who are still concerned about paying their medical bills while having insurance coverage highlights the underlying cost issue that’s affecting the healthcare system at large, according to CQC board member Jim Manley.
“More people in this country have health care coverage than ever before, but what’s staggering is that they are clearly concerned with the unpredictability of insurance premiums, hospital care that could be denied and pharmacy bills for the medicines they need,” Manley said in a statement. “Despite the strides we’ve made increasing access to care, Americans are still not confident in the quality of coverage they have and that’s a big problem.”
Part of the cost conundrum for insured patients is the cost of a healthcare premium, the report noted. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said paying their premium was a top concern, while 18 percent said premium costs were their second biggest financial concern.
Patients not only harbor concerns about paying for their healthcare, but also about the quality of their healthcare. Sixty-four percent of patients said that they feel their care is influenced by their health payer coverage, and 59 percent reported that their doctors face limited treatment options because of insurance restrictions.
Patients are noticing lapses in their insurance coverage, the report indicated. Over half (57 percent) said their insurance plans used to cover more services than the plans currently do. Fifty-six percent of patients said they used to access more prescription drugs on their insurance plans than they currently can, while 54 percent of patients said more clinicians accepted their insurance plans in the past.
To be clear, 87 percent of patients did say they trust that their providers are prioritizing their healthcare needs above all other factors. But complex or even skimpy insurance plans are making it difficult for providers to deliver affordable treatment that covers all patient healthcare needs.
These conflicting priorities are putting clinicians in a difficult spot, said survey author Linda Goler of the Black Women’s Health Imperative.
“Patients deserve quality and affordable care that will best treat their health conditions,” Goler asserted. “Doctors and nurses shouldn’t be unduly influenced to consider health care costs and/or putting their patients at risk for medical bankruptcy when figuring out the best treatments for their patients.”
The survey also showed evidence that patient healthcare costs are rising while the quality of care remains the same. Sixty-two percent of patients who rated their care as “poor” or “very poor” said their out-of-pocket healthcare costs are increasing. One-quarter of these patients also rated their overall health and wellness as “fair” or “poor.”
These healthcare cost concerns may not be unfounded, the report revealed. High patient financial responsibility can be prohibitive. Seventeen percent of survey respondents said they could not access care when they fell ill within the last two years. Three-quarters of those patients were on Medicaid or were uninsured.
Patients did agree with a number of proposed solutions to help them overcome cost barriers. Eighty-one percent of patients said high prices were the underlying issue and that overall treatment prices need to go down. Eighty-one percent of patients also said patients should reap the benefits of pharmaceutical discounts.
A total of 83 percent of patients said hospitals, pharmacies, and health payers must use better cost transparency. These healthcare stakeholders should publicly list their prices for patient access.
Organizations should make these listings, as well as the eventual bill the patient will receive, simple. Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents said they struggled to understand their medical bills and could not receive adequate answers from their insurance companies.
The healthcare industry may be moving in the right direction for at least some of these fixes, specifically as they relate to price transparency. Some states have mandated price transparency, with California leading the charge on that front.
Colorado has also worked to address price transparency, with a recent law mandating practices list the cost of their 15 most common treatments.
Nationally, HHS and CMS have started to make moves toward better price transparency. While previous programs have asked hospitals to create systems to meet patient requests for price transparency, a recently-proposed rule would require all hospitals to list their prices online.
As a part of the agency’s MyHealtheData initiative, CMS is calling on health insurers to also begin offering better patient price transparency.
“CMS serves more than 130 million beneficiaries through our programs, which means we are uniquely positioned to transform how important healthcare data is shared between patients and their doctors,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Today, we are calling on private health plans to join us in sharing their data with patients because enabling patients to control their Medicare data so that they can quickly obtain and share it is critical to creating more patient empowerment.”