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5 top consumer health cost nightmares

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Once marketers had to use surveys, focus groups and educated guessing to figure out what was scaring consumers.

Today, they have search results.

Google, for example, has gotten public health researchers’ attention with a flu tracker based on results for flu-related terms.

Now FAIR Health, a health cost data transparency organization created through a New York state settlement, is analyzing the traffic going through its Consumer Cost Lookup tool to detect trends in which health cost services are worrying consumers.

See also: Retail clinics fight tetanus vaccination gap

Consumers can use the lookup tool to estimate the full, out-of-network cost for specific procedures in particular markets.

Analysts came up with a table comparing the most popular searches in the second half of 2013 with the most popular searches in the second half of 2014.

The trends suggest that tougher rules requiring parity between benefits for mental health care and other types of health care may be reducing consumers’ level of anxiety about mental health costs: The share of lookup traffic related to psychotherapy fell.

But the popularity of emergency room cost searches rose.

Robin Gelburd, president of FAIR Health, said in a comment on the results that changes in the search mix may reflect coverage trends.

“More employers now offer narrow network and high-deductible health plans,” Gelburd said.

FAIR Health itself does not disclose the underlying search traffic figures. estimates it gets about 560 unique visitors per day, and 

For a look at the five services that brought consumers to the lookup tool most often in the second half of 2014, read on.


5. Emergency department visit, high severity

The cost of out-of-network emergency room care for conditions of high severity ranked eighth in 2013.

The rapid, three-rung jump for emergency room costs may be an effect of plans shifting to narrower hospital networks and getting tougher about they consider to be justified out-of-network emergency care.

See also: Study Prudent Layperson Laws Contribute To ER Crisis

Doctors' talking

4. Office visit, new patient, low complexity,

This service also ranked fourth in 2013. Stability here may be a sign that many patients got to keep their old primary care doctors in 2014.

See also: PPACA utilization reports trickle out

Hospital patient monitor

3. Emergency department visit, moderate complexity

This service climbed from sixth place in 2013. Together with the three-rung jump in lookup activity for high-severity emergency care, the three-rung jump here may confirm that network changes really have affected consumers’ use of emergency care.

See also: A Philadelphia hospital makes a bet on PPACA

Doctor with patient

2. Office visit, established patient, medium complexity

There’s no news here. This popular service also ranked second in 2013.

See also: Medicare overpays billions for office visits, patient evaluations


1. Office visit, established patient, low complexity

Again, there’s no news here. This popular service also ranked first in 2013.

What may be more interesting are two services that fell out of the top five.

Perhaps because of a combination of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) preventive care mandates and incentives to hold down use of emergency care have, “diagnostic colonoscopy” fell to sixth, from third.

“Outpatient psychotherapy, 45 minutes” sank to 11th, from fifth.

See also: The rise of telemedicine


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