Findings may also be noteworthy as Medicare endeavors to promote online quality information for elderly patients, some with Internet-attuned children and grandchildren and some without. Policymakers have pinned some hope for curbing costly, poor-quality healthcare on more informed consumers moving the marketplace.
As the authors note: “Simply making information available, however, does not ensure consumers will use it.”
Seniors mailed a list of drug plan options for their prescriptions were more likely to switch to lower-cost plans than seniors directed by mail to go online for the same information, the study reports. Those that switched saved an estimated $100 per year, the authors say. Satisfaction with health plan quality slipped and overall satisfaction edged up, though not significantly in either case, for seniors who switched.
Seniors do not go online as often as everyone else. Roughly one out of four Americans age 65 and older use the Internet, the latest Pew Internet and American Life poll shows.
And that percentage climbs as age drops. About three out of four age 50 or older but too young for Medicare use the Internet. Pew's poll found 87% of those ages 30 to 49 use the Internet. As of May, when the poll was conducted, 95% adults age 18 to 29 used the Internet.
Seniors who participated in the study typically turned to Internet less than 15% of the time for Medicare information. That was also true for the phone or finding someone to talk to in person.
Instead, seniors read their mail. Researchers sent letters to some seniors with tailored information on the cost of their prescriptions under competing Medicare drug plans. Others got generic letters with the address for the free and well-publicized Medicare drug plan website.
Jeffery Kling, of the Congressional Budget Office; Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University; Eldar Shafir of Princeton University; Lee Vermeulen of the University of Wisconsin Madison; and Marian Wrobel or Mathematica Policy Institute conducted the study.
Researchers surveyed roughly 450 seniors by phone prior to the mailing and twice afterward to determine drug plan changes.
You can follow Of Interest on Twitter @MHmevans.