In today’s economy, no one wants to pay too much for whatever he or she is buying. For most things, a prudent consumer can research the best deal, to ensure they are getting the most for their money.
Few people would go to a car dealership without first knowing what a fair price is for the car they are buying. So why is it that, when it comes to doctor visits, medical procedures or other health care necessities, most people don’t have a clue what their bill will be or if they are paying too much?
That was the question Dr. Jeffery Rice asked himself after realizing he’d just paid 10 times more for a blood test than he should have. He figured if this could happen to him, the average consumer was probably being overcharged too.
In 2009, the e-health expert started Healthcarebluebook.com, the first website to help people price health care services on a national basis. The site gives consumers free “fair pricing” information for a variety of medical services from doctor visits and hospital stays to medical tests and surgery for their specific area.
It’s the same concept as other online sites where consumers can research the best price for travel, home improvement services, car insurance or home loans.
The fair price is based on the average price health care plans negotiated to pay their network providers for a service in a specific market says Aimee Stern, vice president of communications at Healthcare Blue Book.
As Stern explains it, the price for the same health care services, procedure or treatments can vary by thousands of dollars even in the same market. For instance, uninsured patients often pay higher prices for hospital care, prescription drugs, lab tests and other health care services than those with health insurance. And several studies show a higher cost doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality or value.
If you are paying out of pocket, a cancer diagnosis can send your bottom line into a tailspin. In my area, a mastectomy for breast cancer can run from $6,400 to more than $24,000.
“A person can pay thousands dollars more for a mastectomy in one facility than in one down the block, simply because the insurance companies negotiated different rates with different providers. For consumers, knowledge is power. It’s truly possible to pay less for medical services and not compromise quality of care or level or service. Now anyone can get help with pricing to negotiate and save money, and that is really our goal,” she said.
Stern says the savvy consumer can ask for a discount when offering to pay cash for their medical services, or your own doctor may give you a discount if you simply can't afford what they are charging, “but you have to know to ask.”
The website is in the process of rolling out customized versions of the Blue Book consumer site to companies and other organizations, so their employees have a range of prices for providers within their network. Stern says as a result it creates educated employees who can do a better job of managing their health at a price they can afford.
More information at www.healthcarebluebook.com
Lynette Summerill, an award-winning writer and scuba enthusiast lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two canine kids. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Sources: Interview with Aimee Stern. Healthcare Blue Book. 14 Sept. 2011.
Minnesota Medicine. Differences in the Cost of Health Care Provided by Group Practices in Minnesota. John E. Kralewski, Ph.D., Bryan E. Dowd, Ph.D., and Yi (Wendy) Xu. February 2011. Accessed online 15 September 2011 at
Reviewed September 15, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith