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"I underestimated how much that cost would affect my behavior."

Says a patient quoted in this NY Times article about how recession-strapped consumers are shopping more carefully for their health care needs.  Health care was once thought to be recession-resistant.  No more, says the article;
"Even with a halting economic recovery, doctors and others say many people are still extremely budget-conscious, signaling the possibility of a fundamental change in Americans’ appetite for health care."

[...]

"(Dr. Jim King, a family practice physician in rural Tennessee) said patients were also being more thoughtful about their needs. Fewer are asking for an MRI as soon as they have a bad headache. “People are realizing that this is my money, even if I’m not writing a check,” he said.
In this mix are undoubtedly some consumers deferring care that is appropriate and necessary for their long-term health.  That may change as the economy approaches something nearer 'normal'  - whatever that is these days.

But beyond that, is this shift 'fundamental' as the Times says?  Fundamental has a sense of staying power, of permanence transcending economic cycles.  I'd answer with a hearty 'yes' even though the new behaviors took root in economic desperation.

As this story about my own spending habits illustrates, I tend to think we consumers have become more careful, skeptical shoppers.  We're arming ourselves with research and information, questioning options and alternatives, seeking-out other opinions.  True, these trends were underway pre-meltdown but haven't we been advised not to waste a good crisis?  So let's not waste this one.

Let's keep consumers engaged and questioning, supplied with actionable, timely information, treating them with some long-overdue respect.  Truly 'bending the health care cost curve downward' depends on it.  It's a brave new world and welcome to it, K-Mart shoppers, physicians and hospital CEOs everywhere.

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