Let the ‘Buyer Beware’ for Health Care Purchases

By Josh Bloom — Mar 17, 2017
Will patients ever shop for health care the way consumers do for an iPhone? Pfizer's Dr. Robert Popovian asks this question in his latest contribution for Morning Consult. The answer? Individuals need much more information to make informed decisions. To that point, here's one way this could work. 

Will patients ever shop for health care the way consumers do for an iPhone?

Pfizer's Robert Popovian asks this question in his latest contribution for Morning Consult called "Let the ‘Buyer Beware’ for Health Care Purchases."

Policymakers have welcomed the concept of health care consumerism for many years, based on the idea that if patients could "shop" for medical services, it would set up a competition between providers (physicians, hospitals, drug companies) that would ensure that patient-consumers would receive better care for less money. Can this work?

Popovian writes, " Theoretically, the rationale sounds like a winner; however, health care is unlike most other goods or services as it is hindered by what economists refer to as “asymmetry in information.”' In other words, while you can research a DVD player or headset on Amazon, medical consumers—patients— do no have this option because they do not have the information they need to make the right decision. Not even close.

Who does? Everyone else. Popovian writes,  "Physicians, pharmacists, insurance brokers, and health benefit managers, to name a few, are the ones with all the information regarding purchasing of health care services. Subsequently, this major obstacle has kept consumerism from taking a foothold in the health care purchasing ecosystem."

The economics of healthcare are especially important at this time because the Affordable Care Act will either cease to exist or bear little resemblance to its predecessor. One way to enable patient-consumers to have more control over their care is through health savings accounts (HSA), which have been around for decades. HSAs would permit individuals to create their own accounts, enabling them to decide how it is spent, for example, health insurance, or drugs. 

But this requires a much greater availability of information for individuals, and this can only be accomplished by transparency:

"A defined health care contribution means the employer sets the specific amount contributed but doesn’t dictate the exact health benefit an employee may purchase. For patients to appropriately utilize these plans and, more importantly, for them to succeed, policymakers need to advocate for tactics that eliminate the information gap that exists which would allow consumers to make appropriate decisions."

To read Dr. Popvian's thoughts on how this might work, you can read his entire article here.

Robert Popovian is the vice president of Pfizer US Government Relations. He has two decades of experience in the biopharmaceutical health care industry and has published and presented extensively on the impact of pharmaceuticals and health care policies on health care costs and clinical outcomes.


Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

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