Consumers might do a much better job of shopping for health care if they knew what care cost.
Arnold Milstein, medical director of the Pacific Business Group on Health, San Francisco, presented that radical argument in February at the congressional Joint Economic Committee hearing on consumer-driven health plans.
There is a “substantial information barrier to consumer identification of the most affordable providers,” Milstein testified.
Plastic surgeons and other doctors who get most of their payments out of consumers pockets are quick to disclose prices and compete on price.
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Squeezing price information from other doctors is difficult.
Insurers like the idea of giving consumers more price information.
“Were just getting people used to the idea that health care has a cost, and that its not $10,” says Meredith Baratz, vice president of marketing at iPlan, the consumer-driven plan unit at UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn.
But iPlan cannot disclose the rates the doctors in its networks charge because the provider contracts forbid disclosure of price data, Baratz says.
Only 1 of the 15 plans that Milstein has studied provides detailed provider price data.
One of the leaders in the effort to let the sun shine in, HealthMarket Inc., Norwalk, Conn., publishes specific physician cost information on its Web site. But the site simply gives the cost of certain popular services. To get the cost of other services, patients still have to call the doctors.