Hospital Comparison Web Sites Need More Cost Data
Thousands of people have used Web sites created by health insurers and providers to compare prices and quality of medical care, but "health policy experts warn consumers not to fall too hard for what seems like the best deal" because the sites do not provide exact out-of-pocket expenses and differ in their methods of calculating costs, the AP/Chicago Tribune reports.
Such sites are meant to allow patients with high-deductible health plans to "make decisions that consider the cost of a procedure and therefore save money," according to Mila Kofman, an associate research professor at Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.
However, according to the AP/Tribune, cost information "can vary greatly from site to site," and some sites do not include the full cost of a procedure or list only the insurer-negotiated price.
Kofman said that she has been unable to find any comparison sites that offer both useful pricing information and quality data.
Gary Claxton, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and director of its Health Care Marketplace Project, said that for comparison sites to be truly useful, they should indicate total out-of-pocket costs including the procedure and any expenses that could accompany it.
"Ultimately, you want to know what the event's going to cost you, not just what one part of it will cost," Claxton said, adding, "If a hospital's cheaper but it doesn't have any anesthesiologists in the (insurance) network, that doesn't seem to be very helpful" (Murphy, AP/Chicago Tribune, 7/5).