By Leslie Small

Two newly published studies help shed light on which strategies insurers and employers should consider if they want to encourage consumers to seek out the lowest price providers.

One study, published in the March edition of Health Affairs, evaluates a program that Health Care Service Corp. introduced in 2017, which offers plan enrollees a cash reward ranging from $25 to $500 when they opt for a lower-price provider of certain health care services.

In the program’s first year, researchers found a 2.1% reduction in prices paid for services targeted by the rewards program — offering savings that totaled $2.3 million. It’s worth noting, though, that “the impact on prices varied substantially by service, with the largest reduction in prices for imaging services such as MRIs and ultrasounds (though not for CT scans) and little impact on surgical procedures,” the study points out.

Meanwhile, a different Health Affairs study examined what researchers deemed a not-so-effective strategy to get consumers to price shop: steering them toward high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) that give them more “skin in the game.”

“Our results indicate that most Americans in high-deductible health plans have not engaged in the five consumer behaviors we examined,” the study says. Those include saving for future health care services, discussing costs with a provider, comparing prices, comparing quality and trying to negotiate a price.

To change this, the study authors suggest that health plans could develop programs to help HDHP enrollees learn to communicate effectively with providers about costs of services and negotiate prices.