Editor’s Desk

Willful ignorance costs us all

Frank Diamond
Managing Editor

Maybe it’s because cars are fun and we’re young when we start driving that we slide easily into the habit of paying automobile insurance. Or maybe it’s because cars are dangerous and our parents and/or the state wouldn’t let us drive without it. The metaphor of allowing beneficiaries to buy health insurance as they do car insurance (just this side of hoary when we used it back in 1998) left reality in the dust ages ago. It sounds so nice, but it’s still not happening, according to a Kaiser Family Tracking Poll released in April 2015.

This, despite all the talk of transparency and the overabundance of evidence that two providers can charge very different prices for the same procedure in the same town and get the same outcomes. This, despite the continuing shift in costs to beneficiaries. In the poll, 2 out of 3 people say that finding out how much doctors or hospitals charge is too difficult. Only 6% of people use quality rankings to make a decision about an insurer, doctor, or hospital.

Researchers add that “when asked more specifically if they have seen information comparing prices or quality across plans and providers, fewer than 1 in 5” say yes.

Many health care economists have pointed out that we don’t know prices in health care, as we do in almost everything else we purchase. That’s one problem. But the search for the educated consumer has been going on for a long time. Perhaps the bigger issue is that many of us don’t want to know. It’s frustrating, but ask yourself this: When was the last time you compared health care prices?