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Price Check: Share what you paid for health care to break the pricing secret

Price Check: Share what you paid for health care to break the pricing secret

Picture of William Heisel

“Price check!”

The phrase still thrills.

I was in high school and working at a grocery store stocking shelves, bagging groceries, and carrying bags to cars. When that phrase was shouted by any of the checkers at the registers, it was like a gun going off at the start of a race.

“Got it!” I would shout and bolt off into the rows to hunt down the price on the shelf for beef jerky, batteries or baked beans. Usually the item was some new brand because the checkers all knew the standard brands by memory.

Can you imagine someone shouting “price check!” in a hospital and sending a bunch of teenagers racing through the halls looking for price tags?

That’s what California public radio stations KPCC and KQED are trying to do, but they are replacing teenagers with you. Unless, of course, you happen to be a teenager, and, if so, please get involved. Here’s how it works:

You find a medical bill you paid. You go to the Price Check website. You start typing in the name of the procedure or office visit, and the form starts giving you choices. You pick one. Then you start typing in the name of the hospital or your medical practice; the form gives you options there, too. Same for your insurance company.

If insurance paid any of the costs, click “insurance paid” and it will give you the option to type in the amount you paid and the amount the insurance company paid.

The result will be a database of prices that provides patients with a range of options. KPCC and KQED didn’t invent this idea. Former New York Times reporter and editor Jeanne Pinder started ClearHealthCosts in 2010 with a small amount of grant money. As Pinder explained to The Muse:

The problem that we’re trying to solve is that no one has any idea what things cost in health care. We have this marketplace where none of these numbers really have a relationship to each other. The people who are most interested in this information tend to be people who are uninsured or on high deductible plans.

ClearHealthCosts partnered with WNYC in New York last year to ask people to share how much they paid for mammograms and birth control pills. In a matter of weeks, they had 400 participants. And the prices ranged widely on the resulting map they created.

Now, Rebecca Plevin and other reporters at KPCC (and KQED) are urging people to share prices for a wider range of procedures. Plevin wrote:

The rising cost of health care is a huge problem. Bringing transparency to the issue can help shape the policy debate about how to hold down costs. At the same time, we're well aware that cost isn't everything; more expensive care doesn't necessarily translate to better quality care. But we are undertaking the Price Check project because we believe that transparency about prices will improve the discussion about how to measure and enhance quality.

I added an office visit from July to the database this morning, and I will be checking back as it develops to see if there are interesting trends. You should, too. If we all know a little bit more about how much specific health care services cost, we will make smarter choices about our care and, eventually, bring some of these costs down.

Photo by StockMonkeys.com via Flickr.

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