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More patients ask for care prices

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Some U.S. consumers may be deciding that getting the price is the only strategy that really counts when it comes to shopping for health care.

Consumers with all types of health coverage seem to be more likely to ask for the price of care before they get care.

But consumers with traditional health coverage — and even consumers with high-deductible coverage and no health accounts to cushion their wallets — seem to be less likely to use other types of cost-control strategies than they were a few years ago.

A researcher at the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) has published data on health care shopping behavior in a report based on a recent survey of 3,853 U.S. adults ages 21 to 64 who had group health coverage or commercial individual health coverage.

The sample included 1,242 people who had account-based health plans — high-deductible coverage with health savings accounts (HSAs) or health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

The sample also included 1,188 people who had high-deductible coverage and no health accounts, and 1,423 people who had “traditional health coverage.”

EBRI define traditional coverage as having an individual annual deductible under $1,000 or a family deductible under $2,000.

In the health account group, 39 percent of the consumers surveyed this year reported asking about the price of care in advance, up from 32 percent in 2012, and up from a previous record high of 35 percent set in 2009.

But the percentage who said they checked to see whether the plan would cover care was 57 percent — up only slightly, from 56 percent, in 2012, and down from 61 percent in 2009.

The percentage who said they had talked to doctors about treatment options and costs increased to 36 percent, up from 35 percent in 2012, but down from 40 percent in 2009.

In the traditional coverage group, the percentage of consumers who said they’d asked about the price of care increased to 26 percent this year, up from 23 percent last year and up from 25 percent in 2009.

But the likelihood that those consumers had asked about whether a plan would cover care sank to 39 percent this year, from 45 percent last year, and down from 50 percent in 2009.

The consumers with traditional coverage were also less likely to ask for generic drugs in place of brand-name drugs.

Similar trends showed up when EBRI looked at consumers with high-deductible coverage and no health accounts.

About 33 percent of those consumers have asked about the price of care this year, up from 27 percent last year and up from 29 percent in 2009.

But — even though those consumers face big deductibles — they are less likely to report asking whether a plan will cover or to try to replace a brand-name drug with a prescription than they were last year or in 2009.

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