Shopping around for best medical prices


As consumers at the store, people like to have plenty of choices and they like to know the cost of those choices. The healthcare marketplace is no different.

Medical price websites are on the rise in response to a growing demand for transparency. These sites help patients find cash prices for certain medical procedures.

Matt Hutchings had a cough that just wouldn’t quit. After going to the doctor, he learned he had a more serious condition than he expected.

“They found out I had Barrett’s Esophagus. That’s where the acids in your stomach comes up,” he explained.

The condition can sometimes lead to cancer of the esophagus, so the specialists recommended surgery to correct this. Matt looked into the cost of the surgery with the doctor who diagnosed him. Even with his insurance, it was going to cost him up to 60,000-dollars out-of-pocket. With the help of his insurance company, Matt was able to price-match the procedure.

“Then we come to find out there was a lot of other doctors and hospitals that would do it for a much lesser price,” Matt said.

He used a company called “MediBid“.  MediBid is one of a growing number of healthcare bidding websites, where doctors can place “bids” for various procedures.

“The goal is to make healthcare more accessible, affordable– allow the employee to really see the quality, and make an informed decision,” said MediBid founder Ralph Weber.

Weber started MediBid in 2010, because he felt there was a lack of transparency in healthcare. For a fee, the site lets patients search through prices providers submit for various procedures. He says often those prices are lower than the out-of-pocket cost from insurance.

“We saw a need for having competition so that people can compete based on quality, based on price, and based on location,” Webber said.

Other sites like “Clear Health Costs” and “Pokitdok” also help consumers find prices for medical procedures. But heathcare advocates worry these types of sites could compromise quality of care.

Caitlin Donovan of the National Patient Advocate Foundation likes that these websites promote transparency, but she’s concerned patients may choose a doctor based solely on cost.

“Patients may not do their due diligence. We’re also worried that even if they research their doctor, they may still go for the lowest bid, and less expensive is not a guarantee of high quality. On the same token, more expensive isn’t always better either,” said Donovan.

Matt ended up going to a specialist out of state and paid significanlty less than the original quote from his local doctor. The surgery was a success, and matt doesn’t suffer from heartburn anymore. It took some extra research and travel but Matt says he’d do it all over again.

“They were excellent, and I came out owing nothing, which was awesome,” he said.

Donovan points out these bidding sites may not be very helpful to a patient who doesn’t have any insurance since the prices may still be too much for a person to pay on their own.

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