There is a bill before the legislature this session dealing with a question as old as time: what is more likely to motivate a shift in behavior, reward or punishment? Is educating consumers enough, or does there need to be something more tangible to cause people to actively change their behavior?
As a young woman of 20 something, I can tell you that I am already extremely set in my ways. I have certain places that I shop, certain items that I always order at certain restaurants and certain doctors that I have gone to for years, regardless of cost to my insurance company, because that is where I go. I know that I am not alone in this phenomena, and LD 1305 aims to address this pattern of behavior to make the medical field more transparent, and more importantly, provide an incentive for consumers such as myself to re-think how we shop for healthcare.
Not many people go to a car dealership to purchase a vehicle without extensively researching local prices and deals within a certain radius. It does not make sense that we routinely purchase medical services blind to the actual out-the-door cost to our insurance companies. Even worse, those without insurance don’t always know that the price on a bill is a negotiable price, and that often times insurance companies negotiate them down drastically. Counter to common sense, an identical service provided by one facility can cost drastically more at another facility right down the road.
While insurance companies and websites such as Compare Maine provide transparency tools showing healthcare costs by providers, there is little actual incentive to motivate anyone to change their ways. In fact, according to the 2013 National Scorecard on Payment Reform by Catalyst for Payment Reform, 98% of insurance companies provide transparency tools, yet only 2% of the consumers utilize the information. Yet, neighboring New Hampshire utilizes a cost-comparing company for state employees that provides incentives for consumers to shop around for medical services and a whopping 88% of employees participate for an average of $669 in savings each time they use the service. This goes to show that an education component alone is not affective unless accompanied by a positive incentive to the consumer.
The high variability in the cost of health care in Maine is a serious problem. Providing tangible rewards to conscientious consumers makes sense and has been proven to have a powerful effect on the lowering of overall medical costs by creating competition in a market that is currently artificially insulated from the free market. Senator Whittemore’s bill would encourage real changes in Maine by creating transparency and encouraging consumers to shop around. I know that if I could receive 50% of the cost savings to my health program by shopping around before a procedure without sacrificing quality of care, I would do so every single time.