The medical world is moving toward price transparency — very slowly. Unfortunately the amount of data available is still relatively sparse, considering the wealth of useful data that could be published. What users are shown is often nothing more than an average or calculated estimate for an area. When the rare facility-specific data is revealed, it is too often list prices (which almost no one pays) or several years old.
One reason for the crawling pace is the healthcare industry’s reticence to let consumers compare costs, which would surely send a great deal of business to lower-priced facilities and put downward pressure on prices. It would be disastrous to their revenues. And don’t think for a minute that the federal government is in a hurry to bring about transparency. The “Affordable” Care Act was carefully crafted to keep hospital revenues in tact, influenced by the billions politicians receive from healthcare lobbyists (more than 4 times greater than the next 3 largest lobbying groups combined). Patients just don’t stand a chance against such powerful forces.
Enter Pricing Healthcare, a relatively new addition to the playing field. They’re asking consumers for a little (anonymous) pricing data from their medical bills in an effort to expose what should be openly and readily available to patients. The company is interested not just in the prices hospitals and physicians charge, but more importantly what real patients are actually paying, in the form of discounted and insurance-negotiated rates. Users can enter data from bills going back nearly 3 years, but as people enter more recent data, it keeps the content current. The website makes the process relatively easy, and patients from all over the U.S. have already started submitting data, many with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Crowd-sourcing isn’t Pricing Healthcare’s only source of price information on the user-friendly site. While consumer data is being collected, the company is also pulling in data from other sources (as can be seen from the large amount of San Francisco data they have published). For the first time the company says, consumers can compare cash prices for scores of hospitals in a large metro area. They company is asking patients in the San Francisco area to help them discover insured rates (the hardest prices to come by) by supplementing the data already on the site from their own medical bills.
Grass roots efforts have done a great deal to influence the course of American history. The internet age certainly makes it easy for individuals to band together and force change. Pricing Healthcare hopes citizens will be concerned enough about the high cost of healthcare to lend their voices and make a difference. Time may be running out.