Study: No link between offering price transparency tool and lower healthcare spending

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Offering a price transparency tool to a large insured population in California did not result in decreased healthcare spending, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

For the study, researchers analyzed the experience of beneficiaries of the self-insured California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a benefit manager for the state’s public employees, their dependents and retirees. CalPERS offered beneficiaries enrolled in an Anthem Blue Cross preferred provider organization a commercial price transparency tool called Castlight. Castlight was introduced to beneficiaries on July 1, 2014, and researchers conducted the study from July 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2015. Researchers said they specifically focused on “shoppable” services such as lab tests, office visits and advanced imaging services.

The study found no link between shoppable services spending and Castlight. Researchers said only 12.3 percent of beneficiaries offered the price transparency tool used it to conduct a price search at least once in the 15 months after it was introduced. Only 2.4 percent of beneficiaries used it at least three times during the 15 months, and 3.9 percent used it at least twice for searches with at least 30 days between searches.

The study found beneficiaries that did a price search prior to receiving imaging services on average paid 14 percent less than those who did not do a price search prior to those services. Researchers said only 1 percent of beneficiaries who received advanced imaging conducted a price search.

“We did not find evidence that offering a price transparency tool was associated with a reduction in spending on shoppable services. Patients’ use of the tool was associated with lower-price imaging services, but because use of the tool was so limited, this result did not translate into meaningful spending reductions among the population offered the tool,” the study’s authors concluded.

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