Healthcare’s Financial Literacy Gap

A 2016 Harris Poll survey offered this shocking insight: The number of people who are uncomfortable with their ability to purchase healthcare is twice as high as the number of people who are uncomfortable buying technology.

In 2014, The American Institutes for Research (AIR) found that only one in five Americans was likely to correctly calculate what he or she owed for a routine doctor’s visit. Fifty-one percent cannot predict their out-of-pocket healthcare costs for 2019—a troubling finding from research by Alegeus. The same research predicts that consumers will leave nearly $85 billion in tax savings unclaimed this year due to a lack of health cost fluency!

These challenges are being compounded every day by the increasing complexity of the healthcare system—including the advent of copay accumulators, shifting Medicare benefit design, and the emerging prominence of high deductible and narrow network plans. All of which further underscores the challenge and necessity of developing patients’ healthcare financial literacy.

In case you imagine that physicians are helping patients navigate the nuances of healthcare economics, think again. A remarkable 86% of clinicians, clinical leaders, and executives agree that physicians lack the training to do so. That’s according to data released this past summer from a survey conducted by the University of Utah Health in partnership with NEJM Catalyst.

How can patients make informed and responsible medical decisions if they can’t begin to follow the money and don’t understand the most basic financial consequences of their decisions? There may be no other industry in which issues of affordability are so convoluted and consumers are so challenged to calculate the comparative costs of available options. And, of course, there can be no other industry in which the stakes are as high. The fact is, pharma manufacturers have become quite diligent about alerting prescribers to coverage policies that make their products affordable to patients. But how many companies are educating the patients themselves regarding the nuances of affordability—or arming practices with the insight and tools they need to do so?

Pharma has an important opportunity to help patients develop the financial acumen required for informed medical decision-making. Companies can achieve this by leveraging the expertise and creativity that they are already dedicating to patient education in other areas. Doing so will serve the interests of patients, responsible manufacturers, the healthcare system, and society at large.

  • Amber Gilbert

    Amber Gilbert is Managing Director at Cyan Health. Amber has helped biopharmaceutical companies develop successful pricing, access, and reimbursement strategies and programs in support of product launches for major specialty and chronic conditions. She is also a frequent lecturer at Rutgers Business School and has presented original research at AMCP. 


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