Age Matters: Breaking Down How People View Health Care Today

Our 2019 Consumer Sentiment Benchmark Study offers a glimpse into perceptions of the health care industry and how people feel about their health plans in the areas of trust, engagement, cost transparency and more. While our full report gives a great overview of the national sentiment, we found it interesting to look at how perceptions, experiences and expectations change by age demographic.

Ages 18-24

Unsurprisingly, this group appears to be the most comfortable integrating technology into their health care experience. They are the least likely to know the name of their own health insurance plan, but the most likely to be using doctor review websites. In fact, 94% have used a doctor review website – the largest amount of any age group.

Of note:

This age group likes to shop. They are the most likely to compare prices for primary care, with 56% having done so. In comparison, only 18% of those ages 45-54 report having compared primary care prices. And, 67% of those ages 18-24 report often or always researching cost or comparing prices before obtaining dental care.

How do they want to hear from health plans? (Respondents were asked to select all that apply.)

Surprisingly, 67% of those 18-24 prefer to hear from their health plan by phone, compared to 44% who like to hear from their plan by email and only 22% who cite mail, in person, or text message as ways they like to hear from their plan.

Top 5 areas of research when it comes to health care:

  • 47% cost estimates for health care services
  • 35% prescription medication related information
  • 35% available health care providers
  • 29% doctor and facility reviews
  • 29% special offers and savings

Where they’re getting health care cost information:

The most important source for health care cost information in this group is friends or family, with 39% citing this as one of their sources. The next biggest sources are tied at 28% of those in this age bracket, who are tapping into their health plan customer service, their primary care physician and government health agencies (e.g., Center for Disease Control) for cost info.

Ages 25-34

This age group stood out in a big way when it comes to health care shopping. Similar to those ages 18-24, these are digital natives. One interesting finding for this age group is their desire for a variety of important details when it comes to health care costs. Overall, 75% of those in this age group wish they had more control over their health care costs. What do they want to have better understanding and control of?

  • Their deductible: 70% state that knowing the amount left on their deductible is very or extremely important
  • Out-of-pocket costs: 69% believe knowing the estimated out-of-pocket cost for a procedure is very or extremely important
  • Prescription medication costs: 71% believe knowing prescription out of pocket costs is very/extremely important
  • Procedure costs: 64% say that knowing the average cost for a procedure is very or extremely important

With this cost-conscious mindset, it’s no surprise that more than half (56%) of those ages 25-34 feel empowered to discuss health care costs with their providers. This could be because this age group likes to shop around and compare prices for their health care. In fact, 50% often or always research the cost or compare prices before obtaining specialty care, 51% research the cost or compare prices before obtaining eye and vision care and 52% research the cost or compare prices before obtaining prescriptions.

Of note:

The comfort of 25-34-year-olds with health care technology is most readily highlighted by the fact that 67% are comfortable with their health insurance company using their personal information to make health care recommendations to them. This age group is also comfortable leaning on online tools in their health care journey to maximize convenience and care quality. They are the most likely to select a provider based on whether they can schedule an appointment with them online – 70% state online appointment scheduling would make them more likely to use a certain health care provider. They are also the second most likely age group to have used doctor review websites, with 87% reporting having done so.

How do they want to hear from health plans? (Respondents were asked to select all that apply.)

More than half of those 24-35 want to hear from their health plan by email (53%), followed by 38% who say they’d like to receive mail from their health plan and 36% hoping for a phone call.

Top 5 areas of research when it comes to health care:

  • 49% doctor and facility reviews
  • 43% available health care providers
  • 40% conditions and symptoms
  • 37% Information about their health care coverage and benefits (e.g., deductibles, HSA balance)
  • 33% cost estimates for health care services

Where they’re getting health care cost information:

While this group prefers digital in many ways, but when it comes to getting health care cost information, they are still using live people when looking for information, alongside digital tools. The most frequently utilized source for cost information is health plan customer service, which 30% of respondents reported using. Followed by 28% who look to their primary care physician for this information, 26% who use their health insurer’s health care transparency tools and 24% who use online health information websites to obtain cost details.

Ages 35-44

Ages 35-44 seems to be a sweet spot for health care transparency tool usage. Although overall people highly value health care transparency tools when they know they have them, this age group most appreciates them. Of those who know they have access to health care transparency tools through their health plan, 80% believe the tools help them make more informed decisions about their care, 79% agree that health care transparency tools enable them to better manage their health care spending and 84% agree health care transparency tools help them better understand their health care coverage and benefits.

Of note:

Costs and online appointment booking are big concerns for this age group. 78% of those age 35-44 – the highest percentage across age groups – state that knowing their estimated out of pocket costs for a procedure is very important and 66% believe that knowing the average cost for a procedure is very important. And, when it comes to digital convenience, this group highly values the ability to make an appointment online. 62% state they’d be more likely to use a certain health care provider if they could book an appointment with them online.

How do they want to hear from health plans? (Respondents were asked to select all that apply,)

In line with many others, this age group has a clear preference when it comes to health plan communications: 58% want to hear from their health plan via email, followed by 33% who want their health plan to send them mail and 32% who want to be contacted by phone.

Top 5 areas of research when it comes to health care:

  • 45% available health care providers
  • 42% doctor and facility reviews
  • 42% cost estimates for health care services
  • 36% conditions and symptoms
  • 36% Information about their health care coverage and benefits (e.g., deductibles, HSA balance)

Where they’re getting health care cost information: (Respondents were asked to select all that apply.)

Many say that they are reaching out to their health plans, with one in three (33%) tapping into their health plan’s customer service for cost information and one in four (24%) visiting their health insurer’s transparency tool(s) including mobile apps and online portals to access this information. The other most common ways people ages 35-44 are searching for cost information are through their primary care physician (24%), friends and family (23%) and hospitals (19%).

Ages 45-54

This age group appears more pessimistic about several aspects of health care, and marks where declining levels of trust in government (only 18% have a high or very high level of trust in government as a health care entity) and health care technology companies (24% have high or very high levels of trust) starts to kick-in. This age also marks where more people start to think health care institutions are charging unfair prices – 49% of those 45-54 don’t believe they do, compared to 34% of those age 35-44 year and 59% of those 55-64.

Of note:

Those ages 45-54 are the most likely to have used their health plan website first when they last looked for a doctor, with nearly half of them (49%) having done so. This age group also weights recommendations from friends and family very highly when making health care decisions, with 63% stating recommendations from friends and family are very influential in their health care choices.

How do they want to hear from health plans? (Respondents were asked to select all that apply.)

This group showed a very strong preference for email, with 63% stating they’d like to hear from their health plan this way. Approximately 1 in 3 (32%) say they want to hear from their health plan through the mail and another 30% state they want to hear from their health plan directly by phone.

Top 5 areas of research when it comes to health care:

  • 55% available health care providers
  • 50% doctor and facility reviews
  • 43% treatment options
  • 42% conditions and symptoms
  • 42% Information about their health care coverage and benefits (e.g., deductibles, HSA balance)

Where they’re getting health care cost information:

The most frequently used sources for health care cost information amongst those ages 45-54 are health plan customer service, used by 34% of respondents, followed by 27% using their health insurer’s health care transparency tool(s). Primary care physicians are also another valuable source of information, with 26% of respondents stating they are obtaining health care cost information from those providers.

Ages 55-64

Similar to those ages 45-54, this group demonstrates negative feelings around some areas of health care costs and certain health care entities. 59% of those 55-64 don’t believe that health care institutions charge fair prices for the services they provide and only 8% say they highly trust the government as a health care entity. Furthermore, only 20% have a high level of trust in health care technology companies.

Of note:

This age group seems to be the least confident when it comes to understanding their health care coverage and benefits with only 38% of those between 55-64 stating they are confident in their understanding of their benefits and coverage. This is the lowest of all age groups.

How do they want to hear from health plans? (Respondents were asked to select all that apply.)

In line with many of the other age groups, email was the most preferred method of health plan communication, with 66% of respondents ages 55-64 stating it’s how they’d like to hear from their plan. Mail and phone still aren’t out of the picture, however, as nearly half (45%) of respondents would like to hear from their health plan by mail, and more than a third, 36%, wouldn’t mind hearing from their health plan by phone.

Top 5 areas of research when it comes to health care:

  • 52% doctor and facility reviews
  • 51% available health care providers
  • 47% conditions and symptoms
  • 47% Information about their health care coverage and benefits (e.g., deductibles, HSA balance)
  • 42% treatment options

Where they’re getting health care cost information:

The most popular source of health care cost information by far for this group is their health plan customer service, with 42% obtaining cost information from this source. Primary care physicians are the next most prevalent source at 25%, with their health plan’s health care transparency tool(s) next at 18%.

Ages 65+

It appears that with age also comes wisdom, as those over age 65 are also the most educated group when it comes to understanding core health care/health insurance terms. Unfortunately, they are the least likely to know about health care transparency tools: 62% don’t know whether or not they have access to transparency tools. Of the 32% who do know they have transparency tools, however, 75% believe the tools help them better understand their health care coverage and benefits.

Of note:

More seniors trust their health plan than any other age group, with 58% rating their level of trust with their health insurance company as high or very high (compared to a 44% average across all age groups). However, only 13% of seniors believe health care institutions charge fair prices for the services they provide – well below the national average. So, it’s no surprise that specific cost information matters to this group. While 39% state that it’s important to them to know the average cost of a procedure before they get it, 61% believe knowing their estimated out of pocket cost for a procedure before they get it is important.

How do they want to hear from health plans? (Respondents were asked to select all that apply.)

While the last few age groups overwhelmingly prefer email, this group wants to be contacted by both email (58%) and mail (52%). This is in contrast to the next best way to contact this age group, by phone, which only 37% listed as a way they’d like to be reached by their health plan.

Top 5 areas of research when it comes to health care:

  • 54% conditions and symptoms
  • 53% available care providers
  • 47% treatment options
  • 43% doctor and facility reviews
  • 41% Information about their health care coverage and benefits (e.g., deductibles, HSA balance) and Information about prescription or other medications

Where they’re getting health care cost information:

Solidifying the trend of health plan customer service as the most widely used source of health care cost information, seniors age 65+ are also most likely to be using this source, with 34% having said they have obtained cost information from them. 28% obtain cost information from their primary care physician and 15% have used their health plan’s health care transparency tool(s) for this information.

Health care is complicated. To help us make it easier to navigate, we regularly conduct studies like this one to understand how health care consumers feel about communications, transparency, trust, preferences and costs. By working to best understand where we are today, we can better chart a path forward with our health care partners to increase awareness and utilization of tools that help make health care easier for everyone.