Health Care Cost Comparison Tools Emerging
Health care consumers are "finally getting some of the tools they need to comparison shop," although it is "too early to tell whether people will use these new services," the Wall Street Journal reports. Major health insurers including Aetna, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth are creating or expanding Web-based pricing tools. Aetna last year released the rates it negotiates with physicians for the Cincinnati area, making it the first insurer to disclose such information. Aetna is expanding that program to eight additional regions.
In addition, several state governments and state hospital associations are planning to launch Web sites that list hospital charges, and Medicare earlier this month began listing the range of what it reimburses hospitals for 30 common procedures and treatments. However, patients without access to the Internet do not have any easy way to view such information, and some Web sites are available only to insurers' enrollees in certain cities.
In addition, Web sites that detail hospital costs "typically focus on 'charges,' which are the undiscounted 'list' prices that don't typically apply to people who have insurance," the Journal reports. Also, some patients might "rely too heavily" on information from such Web sites "and end up blindsided when costs turn out higher than anticipated," or they might "misunderstand the limitations of the price listings," the Journal reports (Rubenstein, Wall Street Journal, 6/13).