More choices for online health care price transparency

As most self-pay patients know, finding the real price for a doctor’s visit or, medical procedure, or prescription drug can be a challenge. I’ve mentioned before several doctor’s offices, surgical facilities, and web sites that self-pay patients can use to get good price information, like Surgery Center of OklahomaPricePain, and WeRx.

Courtesy of FOX Business News, I’ve got a couple of more to add to the list today! They recently aired a segment on web sites that offer self-pay patients a way to find real prices and get significant discounts off of what they might otherwise pay as an uninsured or out-of-network patient.

Sites offer name-your-price-health-care-deals

What if you could go to a doctor and know for certain what the bill is going to be, or better still, tell the doctor exactly what you’re willing to pay? A few online comparison-shopping sites boast that they offer these routes to better deals on health care. 

The ability to name your price and related trends could touch a wide variety of care, from elective operations such as weight loss surgery and Lasik, to routine medical procedures, including blood tests, colonoscopies, MRIs and even knee replacements. 

Similar to Priceline

Each of the websites operates with a different business model. Consumers using DealWell, for example, pick their desired medical service and then see a list of providers along with their retail prices and the average discount that DealWell members receive. The site boasts that it offers negotiated discounts of up to 85%…

Shoppers can choose to “buy now” at the regular discounted rates, or they can go lower and name their price to see if a provider will accept it. Payment must be made immediately, using a credit or debit card.

DealWell does not accept health insurance as payment but says purchases may qualify for reimbursement from a health savings account or flexible spending account.

Right now, DealWell is available only in the Dallas area, but Fischer says the company plans to move into other markets in the coming year…

Other health care bidding sites

Another site,, takes a similar approach but focuses largely on laboratory and radiology services. Consumers can enjoy big discounts at off-peak lab times and might save even more by naming their own price.

The article also reports on MediBid, which allows patients to submit information on the medical care they need and get bids from providers to perform the procedure or treatment requested. I’ve featured MediBid before, and the service they provide for self-pay patients is outstanding.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t when I read that some people object to these types of services that save patients money while getting needed care.

Although these sites are pitched as ways to save money, some critics argue that they’re really just a new way for providers to market their services and drive sales.

“They have the potential to provide increased price transparency by publishing retail prices for health care services,” says David E. Williams, president of the Health Business Group, a consulting firm in Boston. “But sites … which post a price but then encourage patients to offer less actually harm transparency by turning prices into a game.”

Wait, it gets better. Not only do allowing patients to find real prices turn shopping for health care into a ‘game,’ apparently it’s the medical equivalent of a one-night stand!

Should you use a health care deals site? Williams’ advice is to consider what you need versus what’s being offered, because the deals can come bundled with multiple services that you may not need and shouldn’t pay for. He also cautions that you shouldn’t shortchange your health in a quest for savings.

“Continuity of care is important in health care,” he says. “If you get your teeth cleaned at a different dentist every six months, based on the deal, how will anyone be able to notice if something has changed from the last visit?

“The deal sites encourage the health care equivalent of the one-night stand,” he continues. “Each party tries to get whatever they can out of the initial interaction and writes off the future.”

I probably don’t need to tell any of my regular readers this, but this is garbage. It apparently never occurs to Mr. Williams that using these services isn’t just a ‘quest for savings,’ it’s one of the few options many self-pay patients have for even accessing care that they need. He apparently thinks people would be better off not receiving care at all if the alternative is getting care from a provider you don’t have a long-term relationship with.

His views are rooted in the belief, all too common among many who work in the health care field, that most people are just too stupid to responsibly shop for health care services, and that people need to be closely managed when it comes to health care because without supervision by ‘experts’ people won’t know how to take care of their own health care needs.

Fortunately we know better, and interest in self-pay health care is a growing phenomenon. The easiest way to refute the silly claims by Mr. Williams is simply to keep doing what he says people aren’t smart enough to do!

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