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Finding Out The Price Of Healthcare Should Be A Realistic Expectation

Thu, 10/24/2013 - 9:53am
Jessie Gruman, PhD

“Healthcare costs are sky-rocketing!” “The percentage of the U.S. GDP devoted to heathcare costs is the highest in the world.” “The cost of Medicare is unsustainable.”

For most of us, the cost of healthcare (i.e., the dollars required by the system to produce and deliver care) isn’t what brings us the most anxiety.

It’s when we’re patients or helping a loved one find care that so many of us are deeply concerned about the price of our healthcare: what we — personally, individually — pay to acquire the services, drugs, and devices we need.

We hear news stories about people who delay needed care, split pills and skip treatments because they just can’t afford them. We hear that more of us are going to a retail clinic in a Walmart to check out a bad cough because of convenience and lower prices. We watch family members and neighbors slip into bankruptcy because they can’t pay the medical bills from their car accident or their cancer treatment. We see jars of pennies at the corner 7-11 with a sick child’s face and a plea for help with unpaid hospital care.

These experiences hit home even among the well-insured as we watch our health insurance premiums make their annual leap along with our co-pays and as many of us find ourselves unceremoniously switched by our employers to high deductible insurance plans. Or we find ourselves staring the price of care in the face when we are between jobs or our company quits offering insurance because it’s just too expensive.

There is no doubt that more of us are becoming price-sensitive about our health care. An interesting online survey from Altarum indicates that we have considerable interest in unit pricing and comparison shopping for healthcare services and products.

You would think that, in response to this surge in interest, hospitals, diagnostic lab companies and clinicians would make it easy for us to find out what we will have to pay for a given procedure or service.

But you would be wrong. I think this is still true today, two years after a GAO report documented the sorry state of price transparency for the U.S. public. But I don’t know for sure. And neither do you.

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