Although consumer-directed health plans are on the rise, few Americans report comparing the quality and price of plans, hospitals or doctors.

Fewer than one-in-five Americans surveyed by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation reported they have seen information comparing prices or quality across plans and providers and just one-third (31%) have seen information comparing doctors, hospitals and health insurance plans in a one-year period.

Of those who saw information about quality, just 6% used the information to compare health insurance plans and doctors and 4% to compare hospitals.

For information on pricing, 9% say they used the information for health insurance plans, and just 2% for hospitals and doctors.

As companies increasingly move toward consumer-driven plans it is interesting that people are not comparing quality and price, says Bianca DiJulio, an associate director, public opinion and survey research program at Kaiser in Menlo Park, Calif. According to RAND, a 2012 survey found that 59% of large employers offered at least one consumer-directed health plan. In 2011, almost 17% of Americans with employer-sponsored health coverage were enrolled in a consumer-directed plan.

DiJulio says there might be a variety of reasons why so few people compare plans, price and quality including people relying on recommendations from friends or picking a doctor or hospital based on location.

She adds another reason might be the information is hard to find, which is backed up by Kaiser survey data. The survey found that not only do few people say they have seen information comparing prices, “many say it is difficult to find out how much medical treatments and procedures provided by different doctors or hospitals would cost,” the survey says.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of all Americans surveyed say it is difficult, while a third say it is at least somewhat easy to find out how much medical treatments would cost. For the uninsured, three-quarters (76%) say it is difficult to find out this information, Kaiser reports.

For employers and advisers, the idea that people are not using the information available presents “a great opportunity for employers to help make this information more available and accessible to their employees,” DiJulio says.

Consumer demand

Katherine Hempstead, a director at the non-partisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says there is a lot of evidence that consumers are increasingly demanding and using price and quality information when shopping for health care.

However, “most people shop for health care relatively infrequently, so it is not surprising that the prevalence numbers were relatively low,” she says. “It was interesting to see that a higher proportion of consumers reported seeing price and quality information about plans as compared with hospitals or doctors.”

To Hempstead, that suggests “awareness of advertisements for marketplace plans during open enrollment, and also may reflect the growth of the direct-to-consumer insurance market in private exchanges as well as the non-group market."

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