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Health care information confuses people

The Center for Retirement Research blog focuses on how health care information tends to confuse people more than help them. As a result, many people make poor health care choices.

In truth, information that we need to make smart health insurance choices is largely unavailable–e.g., whether a particular health plan delivers value and how one health plan ranks vis a vis others. Private health plans rarely provide helpful information on what we will need to pay for our care. And, people don’t know what care they may need. So, people understandably cannot choose health plans that save them money.

Only older adults and people with disabilities have the choice of traditional Medicare and can guarantee themselves access to the doctors they want to see at predictable costs. But, they need Medicare supplemental insurance, which can be expensive and many older adults are hard-pressed to afford it.

It’s not clear that people could ever have the health care information they need to make rational choices about private health plans. It might not make a material difference if health plan information were less confusing or better information were available. What would make a big difference? Giving people good affordable private health plan choices, which would require a far more heavily regulated private health insurance system than we have today.

Putting aside health insurance choices, the evidence suggests that people cannot make good choices about health care products and services. They often mistakenly believe that more expensive health care products–e.g. brand name drugs, not generics–are better. One research experiment published in Science found that “Expensive medications tend to make us feel better, even when they’re no different than cheap generics.” People may react to a treatment differently based purely on the cost of the treatment.

In fairness, most of us are bombarded with health care information that is virtually impossible to understand and steers us in all kinds of directions that may not be in our interest. We are left to wonder what to believe. It’s therefore not surprising that people often believe that more medical tests are better than fewer tests, even when they may not be. And, they skip care because they mistakenly think they cannot afford it. They may think that a physical or MRI will cost more than it actually does.

A University of Wisconsin report finds that almost half of people who are on a tight budget skip medical tests and treatments because they don’t think they can afford them. About one in three of them don’t fill a prescription for the same reason. They make these decisions thinking their out-of-pocket costs are higher than they in fact are.

People also do not understand how their health insurance deductibles and coinsurance work. People with high-deductible health plans do not understand that they need to pay for the cost of their care up to the deductible amount, which is often many thousands of dollars, before their care will be covered.

It’s time we stopped expecting consumers to act “rationally” when it comes to health care and guarantee everyone affordable access to the care they want and need.

Here’s more from Just Care:

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