Mass. Poll: Health Costs Feel Heavier Than Ever, Yes To Price Tags

Source: Mass Insight / Opinion Dynamics

Source: Mass Insight / Opinion Dynamics

You may already know all too well that the cost of health care, whether in premiums or co-pays or deductibles, seems to weigh down your budget more heavily with each passing year. But the chart above tells you that if that budgetary load is feeling more burdensome than ever before, you’re not alone.

Every spring, the Boston consulting and research firm Mass Insight runs a health care “affordability” poll, and this year’s is just out today. From the press release:

Since 2004, the Mass Insight / Opinion Dynamics Healthcare Affordability Index has tracked how much of a cost burden residents feel from premiums, co-pays, prescription drugs, and deductibles. Results are calculated into a single Index score, which measures the level of affordability people feel toward their healthcare. Results from the spring 2013 poll show the lowest score ever recorded on the Index, 109, meaning Massachusetts residents feel their healthcare is becoming less affordable and more of a financial burden.

The poll of 450 Massachusetts residents, conducted in late April, found that its “affordability index” dropped 10 points in just the last year.

Might the 2012 Massachusetts health cost-containment law help at all? At the very least, the poll found eagerness among respondents for one aspect of the new law: its promise of greater health care “transparency” to make it easier for consumers to obtain price information.

To better understand how residents may use these new cost transparency tools, Mass Insight partnered with the Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation to ask how consumers are seeking out price information about their healthcare.

Results show that consumers overwhelmingly want greater access to healthcare cost information, are comfortable talking with their providers about costs, and are eager to compare costs between different providers when making decisions about where to receive care:

• 89% agree that “It is important that I know how much my medical care will cost ahead of time.”
• 73% agree that they are currently “able to get useful information about my out-of-pocket costs in advance.”
• 79% agree that “I’d like to be able to go to a website to compare the costs of receiving medical services from different doctors and hospitals.”
• 81% agree that “I would feel comfortable discussing the cost of my medical care with my doctor.”
• 67% agree that “If I could compare the prices of different doctors or hospitals, it would affect my choices about where to receive care.”

I must confess, I find these answers surprisingly rosy, but perhaps I’m just a cynical hack? (Rhetorical question. Really.) My own experience and our collective reporting suggest that in fact, many people are not comfortable discussing costs with their doctors; it’s exceedingly hard to get useful information about out-of-pocket costs; and many people don’t tend to take advantage of cost-comparison tools that already exist. Readers?

And now, because all poll stories should include methodology notes, here they are from the press release:

Poll conducted for Mass Insight by Opinion Dynamics Corporation. This survey was conducted among 450 Massachusetts residents. Residents were contacted by telephone using a mixture of random-digit-dial (RDD) and cell phone sample from April 24-29, 2013. The margin of error on the full, 450-member sample is ± 4.6% at the mid-range of the 95% confidence interval.

Mass Insight / Opinion Dynamics Healthcare Affordability Index
The Mass Insight / Opinion Dynamics Healthcare Affordability Index is calculated by assessing positive and negative ratings on each of four cost-related health care measures—specifically, the cost burden people feel on premiums, co-pays, prescription drugs and deductibles. These calculations result in a single Index score, which measures the level of affordability people feel toward their health care. A rise in the Index score signifies a greater sense of affordability, a drop in the Index score reflects a lesser sense of affordability.

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  • Futo Buddy

    its all a scam. thanks romneyobomacare. now they will tell us that we need to ban large sodas and god knows what so we can lower our aggregate health costs. meanwhile the insurance companies are buying fleets of jets

  • Reasonable?

    The sad truth is the promises of health care reform have not been realized and people are reasonably frustrated.

    Policy makers told us the competition on quality would bring down costs.
    It has not happened.
    In fact, the opposite is probably true: Competion on cost will force organizations to justify cost differences with quality claims.

    Organizations in MA have been extremely slow to post on quality so MA citizen might as well increase the pressure on costs.

    We need to get the cart from in front of the horse, so the wagon can start moving.

  • Dennis Byron

    Interesting in that the trend is what one would expect given what we know about the hard numbers over this time period: premiums up through the roof, higher deductible health plans becoming more popular, co-pays going up, etc. On the other hand, I think a combination of popular drugs coming off patent and generic drugs becoming more popular would probably lead to a a feeling that drugs are more affordability (at least that should clearly be the finding for with Medicare Part D users and Medicare users in general in Massachusetts because of Prescription Advantage)

    But indexes are suspect to start with. How is each of those factors weighted and against what? Presumably feelings about premiums and deductibles received more weight but it doesn’t say. How were these factors even picked since they seem to be a mishmash (technical term: not collectively exhaustive nor mutually exclusive). For example, plans that cover prescription drugs have co-pays, premiums and deductibles–why was it singled out?

    Then there are all kinds of issues with the sample. Is it made up of people who kept the same insurance over all these years, or changed insurance (if so, how often), get ESI or buy their own, are on Medicare (retiree Medicare or buy their own), are on public assistance of some sort, etc. etc. And what was the sample’s financial condition? What is their aggregate health condition?