High-deductible plans push people to shop around for health treatments, often without the benefit of information on quality and price. That worries Amitabh Chandra, an economist and health care researcher at Harvard University.
'Simply calling the patient a consumer doesn’t make buying health care anything like buying cars and computers,' said Chandra.
In fact, Chandra’s research shows that even higher-income earners with more economic flexibility do not really shop for health care efficiently, even when they're given a state-of-the-art computer program to compare prices. People on these plans tend to forgo all sorts of care, regardless of their own need and health status.
'Prevention, imaging, or drugs — consumers were cutting back on all those. And that’s a sign they don’t really know what care is valuable and what care isn’t valuable,' said Chandra.
In health care research, a new consensus is forming, in part because of Chandra’s work: high-deductible plans with cheaper premiums work well for people who are generally healthy. But for those who are chronically ill or live on lower incomes, these plans can be a disaster. At any income level, in fact, they incentivize the consumer to cut back on care they may need.