Can You Guess the Average Price of a 4-Day Inpatient Hospital Stay?

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

Changing consumer behavior is perhaps one of the biggest challenges that consumer-driven healthcare plans face. Consumers need a lot of education to help build their confidence and skills in managing their money, Joan McCarthy, vice president and communication consultant at AON Consulting, told participants in Health Plan Open Enrollment: Strategies to Improve Results, a May 24, 2006 audio conference hosted by the Healthcare Intelligence Network.

The challenge is to get healthcare consumers to be true consumers and use their healthcare funding vehicles appropriately. Consumers have to understand that these are funding vehicles and that they are expected to talk to their doctor and ask a question, for instance, about a brand drug versus a generic drug, Paul Harris senior consultant with Hewitt Associates added.

McCarthy referenced a 2005 Harris survey for Great West Life Insurance Company that found that consumers can guess the price of a Honda Accord within $300, a round-trip plane ticket within $37 but they are off by more than $8,000 for an average four-day hospital stay. After 25 years of HMOs and PPO co-payment plan designs, consumers have really lost touch with the real cost of many healthcare services.

Employers and health plans are offering a variety of educational tools to raise the level of consciousness among their healthcare consumers. In our June survey of the Month on Consumer-Driven Healthcare Education, employers and health plans alike are sharing the strategies and challenges of educating consumers on selecting and using consumer-driven healthcare plans.

Preliminary results show that plan features and services education is the most popular educational component for both employers and health plans. Other ways that organizations are educating members and employees include online calculators, decision support tools, senior management messages, provider quality and cost information and comparison and consumer tips, such as choosing a PCP and evaluating quality information.

One health plan respondent noted that developing the multiple ways to reach members is one of the greatest challenges they face. “Different people learn in different ways, and we need to fully understand that.”

Participants in Health Plan Open Enrollment: Strategies to Improve Results learned from McCarthy, Harris and Hilary Mitchell, director, voluntary benefits programs with Pitney Bowes a number of innovative ways that health plans and employers are meeting this challenge, such as providing “People Like Me" examples to help employees evaluate which options make sense for their personal circumstances and a list of common medical scenarios to compare employee costs under different health plans.

These innovative approaches are yielding better informed consumers who are now able to put a more realistic price tag on the cost of a four-day inpatient hospital stay, which by the way is $14,500, according to the Harris Interactive study.

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