Consumers in Charge

PricewaterhouseCoopers has issued a report on a survey conducted by its “Strategy&” subsidiary (formerly Booz and Company). The survey of over 2,300 U.S. residents is a hearty endorsement of consumer empowerment, so much so that the report’s first paragraph states –

“There’s a new boss in U.S. healthcare: the survey of 2,339 U.S. residents by Strategy&. The research paints a clear picture of a population displeased with its overall healthcare experience — and with rising expectations for transparency, value, and customer service, as well as a willingness to seek healthcare services from less traditional sources. The healthcare market as we know it is being upended, and the consumer is in the driver’s seat.”

The report has a lot of lessons for the next phase of health reform efforts. In particular –

People like shopping on Exchanges. They like private exchanges better than public ones – 73% said they are likely to stay with the coverage they selected on a private exchange, vs. 57% who said the same about a public exchange. Of course, staying with your current coverage may not be a good thing if the cost changes substantially, as seem to be happening on the public exchanges. While the bureaucrats are encouraging people to look around for the best deal each year, they seem to ignore the real problems with doing so – changing insurance plans every year is extremely disruptive to families and continuity of care. Under Obamacare, it means learning all over again what benefits are covered, what providers are included, what drugs are covered, how to file a claim, how to appeal a denial, how to locate customer service, and so on.

People are ready to try non-traditional sources of care. The report says –

“Consumers, particularly younger ones, increasingly expect healthcare to work the way other digital markets work, with user-friendly interfaces, clearly options designed to meet their needs. Their other buying experiences have made them more savvy and skeptical, and they want to know what they’re getting before they spend.”

Health care services are woefully behind in the transition to digital. While 80% of consumers said they would like digital services to help manage their care, only 23% said they currently have that.

The report also suggests that non-traditional providers such as retail firms like Target and tech firms like Google and Amazon have the potential to take “significant market share” as “consumers associate them with efficient, effective, and delightful customer experience.

Age cohorts make a big difference. Obviously younger people are more comfortable with a digital world than older people are, but the differences go well beyond that –

 “Half of those younger than 25 would go to a shiny new hospital for care as opposed to an older, drab one, even if the new one was scored lower in national rankings; only 16 percent of those older than 65 felt the same way. In attitudes toward telemedicine, the generational divide is just as wide: More than four in five respondents younger than 35 said they embraced care provided via virtual marketplaces, whereas 47 percent of senior citizens “hate” the idea.”

More important for Obamacare, younger people consider “price to be paramount in their decision-making..” while the elderly are “largely unmoved by price variations…” This suggests Congress made a very big error in limiting age differentials in premium pricing and getting the young to subsidize the elderly – the older people don’t care that much about price, but the younger ones care a whole lot.

Overall this report is just another rock on a growing mountain of evidence that Americans are no longer content to be passive recipients of whatever the health care establishment wants to do for (or to) them. They want to be in control of their health care as they are in every other aspect of their lives.

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