The State of Healthcare Transparency: Research Reveals Opportunities for Health Plans

For the third year, we partnered with Hanover Research to complete a national survey of insured healthcare consumers on a variety of topics but with a specific focus on healthcare transparency tools.

Like previous years, the research clearly shows that healthcare consumers want cost information—especially insights into what they should expect to pay out of pocket for care before they go to an appointment. Yet many continue to be unaware that this information is available from their health plans. Paired with the clear and continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, government mandates on healthcare transparency, and societal upheaval in 2020, this year’s report presents a call-to-action for health plans to reengage with their members in new and meaningful ways around transparency.

Below are a few of the big takeaways from this year’s report for health plans to consider.

COVID-19 negatively impacted healthcare transparency awareness.

Even with the  policy discussions and mandates around price transparency making the news in 2020 and into 2021, awareness on the topic remains low. While nearly every commercial health plan in America reports offering some version of healthcare transparency tools, only 45% of consumers report having a health plan that offers such tools. This represents a decline in awareness from 2020, when 60% reporting having access to transparency tools through their health plan. This may be a result of less consumers utilizing healthcare services due to COVID-19, resulting in less awareness of their health plan’s resources, including transparency tools.

What health plans can do: Increase communication

Email remains the preferred communication channel between health plans and their members. 46% of those in our survey prefer email communications from their health plan and 82% of those who prefer email say they would like to hear from their health plan at least once a quarter.

Get their digits: 70% of respondents have not been asked by their health plan for a phone number or email address so they can be contacted—or they aren’t sure if their health plan has asked for this information.

The work we do for healthcare cost transparency remains critical.

The lack of easy to access information has a real impact on care choices, with 25% of respondents in this year’s survey reporting that they have avoided getting healthcare services because they didn’t know what the costs would be. Although those of us in the industry may feel healthcare transparency is common knowledge because we work in it every day and it is becoming a prevalent policy discussion, communication efforts with individual members need to remain consistent and clear to increase awareness and utilization.

What health plans can do: Feature transparency tools prominently and frequently

Previous surveys have shown that clear and consistent naming of cost estimation tools, as well as prominent placement on health plan portal websites, increases utilization. Furthermore, we found in this year’s survey that 35% of respondents with access to healthcare transparency tools say they’d be more likely to use the tools if their health plan communicated more about them.

After 2020, health plans need to engage differently.

2020 represented substantial societal shifts in America and health plans need to react accordingly to engage with their members.

  • 44% report a higher level of awareness of the impact of SDOH on healthcare (conditions and the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age impact their health and health outcomes).
  • 41% report a higher level of awareness about barriers to accessing care (including rural/urban divides, race, and gender)

The value of price transparency tools is clear to those who use them.

Those using the tools use them often, with 69% report using the transparency tools available to them at least once a quarter. This suggests that once members are aware of and have used the tools, they’ll keep returning for more information each time they need to. This correlates with the high levels of satisfaction that people have with healthcare transparency tools overall when they know they have them and they use them.

Most consumers believe their insurance-provided tools help them

  • Make informed decisions (87%), up from 79% in 2020
  • Better understand their coverage and benefits (83%), up from 79% in 2020
  • Better manage their healthcare spending (82%), up from 76% in 2020

This year’s survey contains a wealth of information for health plans looking to better understand and engage with their members. Download the full report for even more insights and information. Any questions? We’re always happy to chat!


*For this survey, we defined healthcare transparency and guidance tools as online tools from insurance companies where members can search for in-network providers (“Find a Doctor”), get cost estimates for procedures, learn about treatment options, and/or get guidance on insurance covered options.