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Most Americans have no idea about prices before they receive health care


Amid ‘runaway growth,’ Gallup poll finds strong support for health care price transparency.

patient facing medical bill cost: © Elnur -

© Elnur -

Fewer than one in five patients know how much their health care will cost before they receive it, according to a new poll.

That result holds true across race and ethnicity, gender, age, education, location, and whether a patient has health insurance, according to new findings by a Bentley-Gallup Business in Society survey of 5,458 adults in May 2023.

“In your experience, do you know how much your health care products or services will cost before you receive them?” the survey asked. Yes, said 17% of adults, while 79% said no, and 3% didn’t know if they knew.

Americans were as close to unanimous as they may be in 2024 on one thing: 95% said health care organizations should make prices clearer before providing care. Again, those results were consistent across major subgroups of American adults, according to Gallup. The remaining 5% were split between 3% don’t know and 2% disagreeing with price transparency.

Patients who want value in health care report they’re not finding it. More than half (56%) agreed the cost of health care products and services they receive reflects the quality of those products and services. But 29% agreed costs reflect quality, while 16% were not sure.

“Results from the Bentley-Gallup Business in Society Report suggest that Americans are increasingly wanting, but are lacking, important information about the costs of their healthcare services, even as prices continue to rise,” the poll summary said.

Rising to what? Approximately $4.5 trillion, or $13,493 per person, in 2022, up 4.1% from the year before, according to Gallup, which cited federal reports. The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported that figure in December 2023.

Meanwhile, Gallup for 2022 estimated at least 38% of Americans are skipping needed health care due to cost, while KFF in December 2023 polled 47% of American adults with health insurance said it was very or somewhat difficult to afford health care costs. The figures are worse for those with low incomes or without health insurance. Additional reports find numerous Americans saddled with medical debt and struggling with inflation.

Similar estimates came up this week in a hearing of the Health Subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Energy & Commerce Committee.

Subcommittee Chair Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky) noted health care spending is expected to outpace the national gross domestic product over the next 10 years.

“This runaway growth is why we are here: Each year Americans, businesses, and state governments are dedicating greater shares of their budgets on health care,” Guthrie said in his opening statement.

He cautioned he was not pointing blame at any specific part of the health care system. In the 2022 figures, hospitals represented more than 30% of total spending; physician services were about 20%, and retail prescription drugs represented less than 10% of health care spending, Guthrie said. He added that employer-sponsored coverage and Medicaid spending also are increasing, hurting individual workers and state lawmakers who must spend more or cut coverage.

“This is why we have to get costs down across the board,” Guthrie said.

In that hearing, Guthrie and other representatives praised bipartisan support in the House in December to pass the “Lower Costs, More Transparency Act,” which would affect health care pricing rules for hospitals and insurance companies, making more information available for patients. That bill is pending in the Senate.

Guthrie’s full statement, links to witness testimony and a video of the hearing are available here.

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