By
President
HSA for America

How Price Transparency Can Save You Money


December 8, 2009
Vol. 5, Issue 11


Price transparency is the novel idea that prices are shared with the consumer, before the purchase.  When this happens, we can more easily shop, compare prices, and save money.   As millions of people do this, healthcare providers must respond with better value in order to earn our business, and everyone benefits.  In part due to the rising popularity of high-deductible HSA plans, price transparency is exploding in many areas of healthcare.  Here’s where you may be able to save some money.

How to Save Money on Minor Medical Expenses

Like me, you’ve probably had the experience of going in for a doctor’s appointment, only to sit in the waiting room for an hour before being moved to the examination room.  And then to sit there for another 30 minutes before seeing the doctor.  The last time this happened to me, I saw the doctor for about 10 minutes, and my bill was $153.

But fortunately for the consumer, the inconvenience and high cost of routine doctor visits is disappearing.  The number of retail clinics that are offering no-appointment convenience and competitive prices is exploding.

Wal-mart recently announced plans for several hundred new clinics at its stores.  Walgreens, which typically charges walk-in patients between $59 and $74 at its clinics, is planning on opening over 2000 in-store medical clinics.  And other competitors like RediClinic and MinuteClinic are also providing many of the same services as the doctor’s office, with more convenience and at a lower price.

Unlike with most conventional doctor’s offices, these clinics offer complete price transparency.  Most have websites with prices posted for examinations, vaccinations, and other services, and offer weekend and evening hours.  For non-emergency medical services, the value these clinics provide is hard to beat.

Price Transparency for Prescription Drugs

A few years ago, Wal-mart started offering generic drugs for $4 each, and competitors such as Target, K-Mart, and most of the major pharmaceutical chains soon followed.  Before then, when a drug’s patent expired pharmacies would charge as they liked for the generic version, often marking it up 4000% or more.

But everything has now changed, and most retailers compete hard on generic pricing.  Prices for brand name drugs though, can still vary considerably.  Most people still don’t price compare, and pharmacies take advantage of this fact.  So you should always do some comparison-shopping before purchasing any new prescription.

One tool you may want to check out is www.PharmacyChecker.com.  This website will give an instant price comparison on any drug you want to look up.  It was interesting to see that the Costco price for Lopressor was $1/pill more than the least expensive option.

Pricing for Other Medical Procedures

It is a little more difficult to do comparison-shopping for minor surgeries and other medical procedures, but that too is changing.  A number of websites have recently popped up to try to provide pricing for medical procedures, some offering better information than others.

One site that can give you a good idea of what a medical service should cost can be found at http://www.costhelper.com/cost/health/health-personal-care.html.  Here you’ll find articles that cover what should be included, and how to get a fair price.

HealthcareBlueBook will provide what they call a “fair price”, based on the zip code where you are receiving the services.  They also have a printable detailed pricing agreement that you can use as a “contract”, when you find a physician that will give you the price you want.

Google “Subimo Healthcare Advisor”, and you’ll find a similar service from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.  There you’ll find typical in-Network and Out-of-Network price ranges.

Having an example of what might be considered a “fair price” for the service will help you get the best value possible. Do not be afraid to be proactive, to compare prices, and to ask for a discount.  Make sure you tell the provider about any PPO network, and if you’ll be paying cash at the time service is received.

Pricing for Other Medical Procedures

Medical care can be extremely expensive, which is why it is essential to carry health insurance to cover catastrophic expenses.  But many routine services can be had much less expensively than most people think, with just a little extra effort.

Exploding healthcare cost is a very serious issue, and will continue to be so even if a healthcare reform bill passes.  The most immediate solution is to increase price transparency and competition among providers.  By being a proactive consumer, you will be doing your part to help everybody.

 


To your health and wealth!


Wiley Long
President - HSA for America

P.S. –Next month we'll talk about funding your health savings account.

 

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