Consumers judge their risk of illness by cost of the cure
Don Ames Reporting
A Tulane researcher finds that, when it comes to vaccinations, folks don't necessarily subscribe to the old adage, "You get what you pay for."
When it comes to calculating their odds of getting the flu, consumers do consider the price of the flu shot to measure their risk, but not the way you might think.
A lower-priced vaccination is more likely to convince folks that they need the shot, according to a new study co-authored by a Tulane University researcher.
"If people see that flu shots are really inexpensive...they feel they must really, really, really be at risk of getting the flu," says Janet Schwartz, assistant professor of marketing at the A. B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane.
"And, once they feel they're at an elevated risk of getting the flu, they become more willing to get the flu shot," she says.
The study found that consumers make judgments about their risk of catching an illness based on the cost of its medication.
"The higher the price, the less they think they're at risk," says Schwartz.
Researchers conducted several surveys to gauge consumers' reactions to different medications based on cost and perceived risk.
For example, they presented different health messages about getting a flu shot, emphasizing individual risk in one scenario and the larger public health risks in another. They told some that the vaccine cost $25 and others $125. Even though all were told the cost would be covered by insurance, those in the high-price group felt that they were at a lower risk of getting the flu.
"They think that the risk of actually getting the flu is higher if the shot is the lower price," Schwartz says.
The researchers found that consumers instinctively believed that important medication like flu vaccine should be affordably priced to be widely accessible.
When priced high and perceivably out of reach for some, consumers inferred that the medicine must not be all that necessary and the risk of getting the illness must be lower.
The results of the study, which is co-authored by Adriana Samper of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, will be published in the April issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.