Report: Health Care Consumers Expect More

Published December 19, 2014

A recent report by Strategy&, a subsidiary of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and formerly known as Booz & Company, notes a growing interest among medical patients in taking greater control over their health care.

Titled The Birth of the Healthcare Consumer: Growing Demands for Choice, Engagement, and Experience, the report summarizes the results of a survey of more than 2,300 U.S. residents and describes a growing number of health care consumers who expect their experience as patients to resemble their experiences buying other goods and services, having “user-friendly interfaces, clearly defined pricing, and a wide selection of product options designed to meet their needs.”

John R. Graham, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis who studies health care, says the increase in direct spending on health care in recent years is responsible for the growing interest in more consumer-friendly health care shopping options.

“Most patients spend much more on health-care directly today than they did a few years ago,” said Graham. “We are fed up with providers’ excuses for opaque or unavailable prices and procedures dictated by insurers or governments.”

Picky Patients

The report describes patient dissatisfaction with the current health care experience, referring to consumers as “a new boss in U.S. healthcare,” and says patients have “rising expectations for transparency, value, and customer service, as well as a willingness to seek healthcare services from less traditional sources.”  

According to the report, people like shopping on exchanges, although they seem to prefer private exchanges to those created under the Affordable Care Act: 73 percent said they are likely to stay with coverage they selected on a private exchange, compared to only 57 percent who bought coverage on a government-run exchange.

People are also ready to see health care brought into the digital age, the survey found. Whereas 80 percent of consumers said they would like digital services to help manage their care, only 23 percent said they currently have that.

The report also suggests nontraditional providers such as retail firms like Target and tech firms like Google and Amazon have the potential to take “significant market share” because “consumers associate them with efficient, effective, and delightful customer experience.”

There is also a clear generational divide regarding health care delivery through nontraditional and digital providers. In attitudes toward telemedicine, more than four in five respondents younger than 35 said they embraced health care provided via virtual marketplaces, whereas 47 percent of senior citizens “hate” the idea.”

Young Are Price-Sensitive

One finding suggests the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, may have a problem getting younger, healthier people to subsidize older, less healthy people.

According to the survey, younger people consider “price to be paramount in their decision-making,” whereas the elderly are “largely unmoved by price variations.” Because the law significantly raised health insurance premiums on younger people, who are highly sensitive to price, Obamacare may push more young people out of the market, leading to large premium hikes for those who remain.

“Obamacare cannot succeed without taking cash from the young and healthy to subsidize care for the old, the sick, and the unhealthy,” said Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom.” She predicts the higher premiums will drive many young people to avoid insurance.

“As premiums increase, particularly after the three-year Obamacare bailout to insurance companies ends, the price-sensitive and typically healthy young will likely choose to go uninsured, find a company that still offers private insurance, discover health sharing membership, search for cash-for-care options, or look for an applicable Obamacare exemption,” Brase said.

Greg Scandlen ([email protected]) is an independent health care analyst in Hagerstown, Maryland.