Reducing the Mystery Around Health Care Costs and Quality

It’s more common than ever for people to use their smartphone or laptop to comparison shop. Health care is no exception. According to the 2018 UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, more than one-third of Americans said they used digital resources during the last year to compare health care quality or cost information – more than double from 14 percent in 2012. Yet, it can be difficult to find definitive information that is also specific to one’s health plan coverage.

A new federal requirement that took effect on Jan. 1 now requires hospitals to post the costs for their medical services online. These listed charges provide consumers a starting point to compare health care costs in their local communities, which can ultimately help them make more informed health care decisions, such as where to go for care or which physician to see.

But this new regulation helps solve only part of the cost mystery. Those posted costs don’t include the discounts health plans negotiate with care providers and facilities. Thus, health plans are integral to help make it easier for people to understand their overall expected health care costs.

One health plan that has been focused on this for more than a decade is UnitedHealthcare. By offering digital resources like Health4Me and, UnitedHealthcare members can access cost estimates based on actual contracted rates with providers and quality of care information, such as physicians’ ratings, that are customized to their location and health plan.

Below is an example of how a member can view a physician’s rating and reviews, their cost in comparison to other physicians, whether or not they’re covered by the member’s health plan and even their practice’s distance from the member.

Members can also access personalized cost estimates for office visits, procedures, treatments and other medical services. For example, the technology allows a member to research and determine the price to treat an acute ear infection will cost an estimated $169.

These resources not only help people better understand what their health care expenses could be, but they also may help save people money. In fact, people who use these online and mobile resources before receiving care paid 36 percent less than people who don’t use them, according to UnitedHealthcare analysis of claims data (2016).

And you don’t have to be a UnitedHealthcare member to compare costs. Individuals can also use this public website, in a new tab, to access market average prices for more than 800 common medical services in their local areas, regardless of what health plan they have.

While the requirement for hospitals is new, health plans like UnitedHealthcare have been offering resources to help make cost and quality information more transparent for years.