Hypochondria Is Costing You More Than You Think

Cost of hypochondria and unnecessary medical care

Have you ever WebMD’d yourself into a doctor’s visit over nothing? If so, you’re not alone.

When it comes to frivolous expenses, medical care isn’t the first thing that pops into mind. But not all trips to the doctor are worth the cost. In fact, a new study found that claims for pointless medical services remain steady, even as consumers increasingly switch to high-deductible insurance plans that force them to pay out of pocket.

Yup, Americans are forking over hard-earned cash for medical treatments that are no more necessary than your most recent infomercial purchase. And this has confounded free-market think tanks that have long theorized that if consumers had more “skin in the game” (i.e., they personally paid for services and drugs rather than billed them to insurance), they would be less likely to spring for unnecessary procedures.

At a glance, this hypothesis stands to reason. But apparently we’re a nation of hypochondriacs, completely happy to pay for medical care that treats nothing more than the gnawing feeling that something is terribly wrong.

The study, conducted by USC’s center for health policy and economics, analyzed 26 services that medical professionals deem “low value.” (Two examples are MRIs for lower back pain and imaging for headaches.) It reached the following conclusion.

  • The use of high deductible, “consumer-directed” health plans has risen dramatically in the past decade, increasing nearly sevenfold.
  • Though such consumer-directed plans have reduced overall spending on health care, they’ve failed to prompt consumers to cut out low-value services.
  • In another blow to consumer spending habits (and one more reason why financial literacy lessons make sense), the study found that consumers don’t comparison shop for services or drugs, even though it could potentially save them thousands of dollars a year.

One of the study’s authors summed it up like this:

“Overall, I don’t find much evidence that these high-deductible plans are helping consumers make smarter decisions.”

Is hypochondria to blame? Maybe so, because when something feels weird, it’s easy to assume the worst, especially after a frantic googling of symptoms. But patients aren’t doctors, so when they go to the ER with a blinding headache, is it unreasonable that they opt for a brain scan instead of Tylenol, just to be safe?


Any health-care providers out there? Any patients—hypochondriac or not? What do you think? Tweet to OppU on Twitter and let us know!