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Six Companies Pushing for Transparency in Health Care Pricing Six Companies Pushing for Transparency in Health Care Pricing

Six Companies Pushing for Transparency in Health Care Pricing

by Jay Parkinson

March 16, 2010

Doctor and HelloHealth founder Jay Parkinson explains why we don't know what it costs to take care of our bodies, and how that might change.

We know how much we're going to pay for almost everything in America, except health care. We can scan a barcode at Barnes and Noble and see how much Amazon charges for the same item. But say we're uninsured in America and we need a hernia repair, one of the most common procedures performed by surgeons. Why won't they tell us how much it will cost ahead of time? The simple answer is the cash paying patient isn't the main customer of the sickness industry. Since 90 percent of sickcare is based on pre-negotiated prices between doctors and insurance companies, it's in their best interest to keep prices secret so they can negotiate more strategically. While this is great for them, it's a frustrating pain for the uninsured, cash-paying patient looking for a little transparency. But as today's version of co-pay health insurance becomes increasingly more expensive, more and more people are going to be asked to spend, say, the first $5,000 out of their own pockets on sickcare. Consumers are going to start demanding transparency. Over the next decade, we'll start seeing a whole new consumer-friendly ecosystem evolve to meet the demands of this changing market. We're starting to see it already. Here are a few examples:
  • Change:Healthcare: They're like BillShrink for medical bills. They help you save money on medical bills, prescription medications, and the like. If your doctor prescribes you a medication, they'll tell you if there's a low cost generic equivalent or where to get that medication for the lowest price in your neighborhood.
  • Minute Clinic: If you have one of the illnesses they can treat, they'll tell you exactly what to expect and how much you'll spend.
  • CarePractice: If you live in San Francisco, you're lucky enough to experience a growing number of savvy young physicians who realize that an insurance-free practice is the best way to provide affordable health care. Since a doctor's practice typically has about 65 to 70 percent overhead-mostly due to staff required for insurance billing-eliminating insurance allows a practice to function with much less overhead and, therefore, lower fees. Qliance in Seattle is another example.
  • Target: If your doctor prescribes a generic medication, it's highly likely that Target offers it for $4 a month.
  • MyMedLab: If you need or want a test, head to MyMedLab and order it for yourself. Head down to a testing center and they will perform the test. Log in to MyMedLab and you'll see your results. STD University is similar and also available for all of your STD testing needs.
  • Bumrungrad: Say you're uninsured and you need a hip replacement. You'll spend a cool $70,000 here in the United States. But if you would like to spend a fraction of that, you can travel to Bangkok where you can have an Apple Store-like healthcare experience for a fraction of the cost.
Although these aren't perfect solutions, they're surely better than nothing. Good luck out there.
Jay Parkinson, MD, MPH launched the online healthcare service, Hello Health, in 2008. More recently he co-founded the design and consulting firm, The Future Well, to design services and products that create health and happiness.
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