Insurance companies negotiate with health care providers for the lowest price, but who looks out for people who don’t have health insurance? And, what if you buy something that’s not covered at in-network rates under a policy you do have? Do you think everyone gets a fair price?
The Variation in Health Care Costs Are Unbelievable
Just last year, 122 hospitals were called as part of a college research project. Jaime Rosenthal of St. Louis’ Washington University called around the country to check the price of a single procedure.
She was only able to get any kind of an estimate from about half of the hospitals contacted. Just 16 percent gave the full price, but that small fraction revealed charges ranging from $11,100 to $125,798 for the same service.
Can Health Care Be Fairly Priced?
Did you know cosmetic surgeons, for example, provide upfront estimates. I can get an upfront estimate from my dentist and my veterinarian, too. And several websites are giving price estimates for medical services online.
Health Care Prices Meet State Legislators
Maybe, the idea is catching with legislators, too. In the North Carolina Senate, Republicans Bob Rucho of Matthews and Harry Brown of Jacksonville have introduced a bill requiring hospitals publicly disclose prices on 50 of the most common services. They would have to show the cost for uninsured patients, Medicare, Medicaid, and patients who have policies with the five largest insurance companies in the state.
The Observer reports that at least 14 states already have laws similar to the N.C. bill. That legislation also requires hospitals post information about charity care in conspicuous locations. In addition, the bill calls for financial rewards to help hospitals provide low-cost care.
How to Be Your Own Health Care Price Watch Dog
Take advantage of free services like Healthcare Blue Book or Health in Reach online. They will let you compare prices around the country – and you’ll notice that prices vary quite a bit around the country. With differences in cost like the $11,100 to $125,798 found last summer, you can easily afford some travel expense in exchange for saving tens of thousands of dollars.
Most importantly – never be hesitant to ask what a service will cost. When you get a look, like this is none of your business, give them a look back that says “yes it is”.
Wiley Long is President of HSA for America, and a passionate advocate for consumer-based solutions that will improve price transparency and lower health insurance and medical costs for people purchasing individual and family health insurance plans.