Health Insurance

Medical Service Bargain hunters?

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) 2005 Employer Health Benefits Survey, the estimated number of firms who will offer high deductible health plans has increased to 20% in 2005.  This is up from 5% in 2003 and 10% in 2004.  Despite this increase, only 3.9% of workers–about 2.4 million in total–are covered either by a High Deductible Plan combined with a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HDHP/HRA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA).

The move towards consumer driven health care is upon us.  Services such as HealthGrades have begun to give quality ratings to hospitals as well physicians and nursing homes.  The HealthGrades offers basic 1-5 star ratings for free, but more detailed reports are available if you wish to pay for them.  (I have not elected to purchase these reports and cannot ascertain their quality.  The information for the Distinguished Hospital awards comes from inpatient mortality and complication rates from the CMS’s MedPAR data.

Further, The New York Daily News recently wrote an article (“Cutting Medical Care Costs“) on the trend towards consumer bargain hunting.  For instance:

Private insurers like Aetna have started programs in parts of the country (Cincinnati is an early example) where they’ll publish online the exact prices they’ve negotiated with doctors in the area for hundreds of medical procedures and tests.

Also, the story gives the following anecdote about patient Lew Randall:

Lew Randall, 64, from Freeland, Wash., recently suffered a shoulder injury. His doctor originally told him an MRI, at $1,200, would be in order to assess the damage.

When the doctor heard Randall would be paying the bill himself, he recommended a $300 barium X-ray instead?

“Is it just as good?” Randall asked.

“If it were my shoulder, that’s what I’d have,” the doctor replied.

“So why recommend the MRI?” Randall continued.

“It’s newer technology,” the doctor shrugged. “That’s what patients want.”

Lew Randall, however, is a director at the libertarian Cato Institute so his story may not be representative.