As our nation seeks solutions to help improve the health care system, there is at least one goal we can all agree on: the importance of making health care quality and cost information more accessible to all Americans.
This is an important effort that has the potential to help improve health outcomes and make care more affordable – laudable goals considering the nation’s health care system ranks among the least efficient in the world, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis.
More widespread use of health quality and cost resources may be part of the solution. Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.
That is in part because there are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet a study by Families U.S.A. concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes. In Chicago, a knee MRI can cost from $650 to $2,409, and back surgery (lumbar fusion) can range from $28,722 to $139,532
Having access to health care quality and cost information may be especially important during the summer to avoid the so-called “July Effect,” the time each year that the quality of care dips at U.S. hospitals, according to some recent studies.
Fortunately, there are many new online and mobile resources that help enable people to access health care quality and cost information, helping them to comparison shop for health care as they would with other consumer products and services. And people are starting to take action: nearly one third of Americans have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.
These resources are far more accurate and useful than those of past generations, and in some cases provide people with estimates based on actual contracted rates with physicians and hospitals, including likely out-of-pocket costs based on their current health plan benefits. Some resources also include quality information about specific physicians, as determined by independent standards.
There are many resources people can consider when shopping for health care. In addition to online and mobile resources People can call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, as well as talk with their health care professional about alternative treatment settings, including urgent care and telehealth options. Public websites, such as www.uhc.com/transparency and www.guroo.com, also can help enable access to market-average prices for hundreds of medical services in cities nationwide.
These resources can help people save money and select health care professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select health care providers rated on quality and cost-efficiency across all specialties, including for primary care (7 percent more likely) and orthopedics (9 percent more likely). In addition, the analysis found that people who use the transparency resources before receiving health care services pay 36 percent less than non-users.
As people take greater responsibility for their health care decisions and the cost of medical treatments, transparency resources are becoming important tools to help consumers access quality care and avoid surprise medical bills.