Most consumers wouldn’t even think of shopping for a car, smartphone, appliances – you name it – without comparing prices and features online.
So why do people shop for their health care this way?
Comparing the price and quality of medical procedures, tests and medicines can be difficult – and in some cases impossible. Until recently there’s been no single website or database of cost information that would help patients make smarter choices about their health care.
Our inability to compare cost and quality information means there isn’t a way to keep prices in check. Without checks and balances, all of our medical costs rise. And when medical costs rise, so do our health insurance premiums.
The Cost Transparency Problem
Across the country, the cost of a hip replacement can vary from $11,100 and $125,798. That’s a more than $100,000 difference for the same procedure.
We have this problem in North Carolina too. We know that even our own customers can see a surgery vary in price by $10,000 in the same North Carolina town. That’s a huge cost difference.
This lack of information drives up medical costs by $100 billion or more each year, according to some estimates.Those costs have a direct impact on our health insurance premiums.
The tide is starting to shift in favor of consumers. More tools are now available that offer cost and quality information on medical procedures and health care providers.
What Can You Do?
Last year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began publishing a significant amount of hospital cost data. Following this year’s update from CMS, The New York Times reported that the cost of some medical procedures increased by more than four times the rate of inflation.
This increasing transparency can help consumers make health care decisions. It might also help make a dent in rising medical costs.
If you don’t have all the information you need to make a good decision about your medical care, you can start by asking questions.
Ask your doctor how much a procedure will cost and what alternatives there are. You may find that there are more effective and less costly treatments.
The more information we all have about the cost of medical procedures, the more we can take control of medical spending and rein in rising health care costs together.