The Price Of Healthcare

healthcare_costsLet me ask you a question; Are you the type of person who buys something at the first place you look, or are you the type of person who goes from store to store, determined to find the best deal possible? Perhaps you are somewhere in between these two extremes.  If all of the purchasing world were impulse buyers who didn’t do any kind of price comparison then there would be no competition.  You would have no knowledge about whether or not the price you paid was high, low or average.  There is a bit of fun in healthy competition and price wars.  Look at black Friday for example.  People shop all night long and stores offer discounts to encourage shoppers to do so.  The shopping experience would be far different if everyone threw caution (and dollars) to the wind and bought the item they needed without even looking at the price tag.  It would be as crazy as buying a new car without asking how much it is!  Thankfully we have been conditioned to look for the best price even if that means mapping out a 25 mile road trip on a Sunday to get a deal.

When it comes to healthcare, most people don’t shop for MRI’s or medical procedures the way they do for groceries or other consumer items.  You go to the doctor for an ailment. They send you for tests to determine what it is, and then they review those tests. The doctor then provides you with a remedy. During this entire process you most likely did not even think about the cost of the tests, let alone shop around for a better deal.

We have been conditioned not to shop for medical procedures the way that we shop for LCD TV’s and other amenities.  Since competitive pricing has been removed from the healthcare scene, it has created a monster.  Prices have spiraled out of control.   For example; an MRI could cost $500, $800, or even $1000 depending on where you go for exactly the same procedure.  You may be tempted to say “Who cares my insurance company pays for it,” but those days are gone and now you may find the cost coming out of your wallet.   Most people now have a deductible to pay and if you don’t, make no mistake about it,  you are paying for it through some serious increases in premium.

Don’t get discouraged, the good news is that there is now a tool available that will allow you to compare healthcare costs for identical procedures at different facilities.  Effective Oct 1, 2014,   health insurers must now provide an online cost-estimator that shows real-time information tailored to a member’s specific plan.  This tool takes into account information such as co-pay, deductible, and co-insurance. This allows a member searching for a common procedure such as an MRI or a visit to a dermatologist to compare the prices being charged by different providers.

Cost-estimator tools are available online now from all insurers that write health insurance policies in Massachusetts.  Consumers can find their tool by visiting their insurer’s website or at the Patrick Administration’s healthcare transparency campaign website: www.GetTheDealOnCare.org.

The purpose of this tool is to try to make it easy to compare the prices of identical procedures at different facilities.  Patients can still call insurance companies to get price quotes but as of Oct. 1 the information must also be online. Patients are only allowed access to their own insurers’ prices, however, the new cost estimators give patients a list of all the doctors or health care facilities in a certain area that perform certain services.  Services are listed from the lowest cost to the highest and the breakdown includes the amount paid by the consumer as well as the amount paid by the insurer.

Now you have a tool to protect yourself from paying too much money for your healthcare services the same way you can compare prices for that beautiful car, TV or laptop that is on your holiday shopping list.