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Help Make Health Costs More Transparent And Share Your Stories

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In America it’s somehow considered normal for a patient to go into a medical visit unsure of whether they will end up paying nothing, doling out $100, or puzzling over a bill upwards of $1,000 a few weeks down the line. Sometimes patients are able to find out what they will pay ahead of time only to be deterred from getting a needed medical procedure because of the cost, unaware that it may cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars less down the block.

When it comes to health care, the lack of price transparency can quickly turn a feeling of outrage into one of utter helplessness. In an effort to demystify health care costs in the tri-state area—and hopefully save people some money—Gothamist and WNYC are partnering with the research company ClearHealthCosts to launch #PriceCheckNYC, a new community health cost sharing project. 

We have set up an interactive database that will allow you to share information about what you have paid for recent medical services, and to search for the cost of a given medical procedure at different health care providers in your area. In the coming months, we will use this information, along with your comments and emails, to generate stories that lift the veil on a health care system that is often intentionally opaque.

ClearHealthCosts has already established similar partnerships with news organizations across the country, leading to a wide range of stories. Their partners have investigated exorbitant bills for screenings that should ostensibly be free, taken a closer look at all manner of hidden fees, and logged more stories than you might expect about people paying less for a medical visit by acting like they don’t have insurance.

To get things started this time around, researchers from ClearHealthCosts have entered information in the database on local health care providers’ cash prices–meaning the price without using insurance—for a set of about 35 common procedures. They surveyed a sample of health care providers in the NYC metropolitan area to get their cash prices for typically non-emergency procedures such as STD tests, MRIs and colonoscopies. Already, some of the disparities they uncovered highlight the absurdity of the health care marketplace.

Let’s say, for instance, you want to get a blood test to measure your cholesterol levels in the Bronx. At Enzo Clinical Labs in Riverdale, the cash price for such a test is a reasonable $21. At LabCorp’s Bronx location, the same test costs $108–about five times as much–placing it in the mid-range of the local health care providers polled. Then, obliterating any sense of scale, there is Montefiore Health System. The hospital system’s Bronx locations have placed the cash price for this common cholesterol test at $1,294. The Montefiore representative who spoke to ClearHealthCosts helpfully noted that some self-pay patients may qualify for a 35 percent discount, bringing the cost down to a mere $841.

Of course, while cash prices offer a jumping-off point for comparison shopping, they don’t represent what patients are actually paying with insurance. Health care providers typically negotiate a separate rate with each insurer, and they’re notoriously reluctant to make those rates public. That’s where you come in. 

Our PriceCheck tool has spaces to enter the specific health care procedure you got, the health care provider you visited, the insurance you used (if any), how much your insurer paid, and how much you were charged. We encourage you to use the space for comments to elaborate, and to send us your health care questions and horror stories at healthcosts@gothamist.com. No need to limit your cost-sharing to physical health, either–we are interested in the outrageous cost of mental health care, too. Who knows? Maybe commiserating about it will even be therapeutic.

Support for this work was provided by the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth). The mission of NYSHealth is to expand health insurance coverage, increase access to high-quality health care services, and improve public and community health. The views presented here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the New York State Health Foundation or its directors, officers, and staff.



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