Symbiosis Health brings transparency to self-pay prices

I recently learned about a new company bringing price transparency and discount pricing to self-pay patients who need imaging, labs, and a few other services. This is extremely important not just for uninsured self-pay patients but also for those with high-deductible plans, since one of the things I’ve observed is that medical imaging services like an MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound are commonly paid for out of pocket by people with insurance. Unfortunately, many of these insured self-pay patients don’t know that they can very easily overpay if they go to their local hospital or don’t shop around.

Symbiosis Health not only shows you the prices being offered to self-pay patients, they also allow you to schedule an appointment with the provider you chose and pay online. Here’s the image from their web site explaining how the process works:

Symbiosis Health image - How it Works

(I’m probably violating their copyright by pasting this image, but I think they’ll forgive me!)

I wanted to check out what sort of deals Symbiosis Health is able to offer to self-pay patients, starting with a colonoscopy. I chose that procedure because I spoke at The Heartland Institute earlier this week about my book, The Self-Pay Patient: Affordable Healthcare Choices in the Age of Obamacare and the example I used of how self-pay patients can save money by shopping around was drawn from an old blog post I did about a Chicago-area uninsured man needing a colonoscopy (“An auction for medical procedures? Medibid breaks new ground in health care”).

In that particular example, the man had been told a colonoscopy in Chicago would cost $3,500 (insurance companies typically pay around $1,800 according to Health Care Bluebook). He instead wound up using MediBid and flew out to Oregon where he had it done for $800 plus airfare and a hotel.

Had that Chicago area man been able to use Symbiosis Health at the time he was looking for an affordable colonoscopy, he could have probably saved himself the airfare and hotel (although he would have missed out on a visit to Oregon). The search I performed on the Symbiosis Health site found a doctor in the Chicago area who does colonoscopies for $880, only a little more than what it cost him at the Oregon provider and far less than what insurers (and their insured policyholders paying out of pocket) pay and especially what the uninsured pay.

I compared a couple of additional services available through Symbiosis Health. I selected an abdominal MRI (without contrast), which Health Care Bluebook shows most insurance companies pay around $820 for, and a blood test typically used by diabetics called a ‘2-hour postprandial glucose’ test, which Health Care Bluebook suggests should cost around $44 for a ‘direct-to-consumer’ lab test (which they describe as “performed by a national lab testing company without a physician visit required… taken at convenient collection centers near consumer’s home or work…”) while if it’s performed at a physician’s office as part of a visit it should cost around $23 on top of the cost of the visit.

In both cases, self-pay patients using Symbiosis Health would come out ahead. In the case of the 2-hour postprandial glucose test, Symbiosis has labs that will perform the test for as little as $14.40, while for an MRI the prices begin at $357.50. I should note that these prices are all for the Chicago-area – at the present time Symbiosis is focused on the Chicago and the New York City areas, but they do plan to expand over time (this sort of geographic limitation is pretty typical among the many, many startups that are offering these sorts of price transparency tools for self-pay patients).

The folks at Symbiosis Health were kind enough to share with me the stories of a few people who have used their services and saved as a result. Here are two brief examples:

  • A patient with a high deductible health plan in rural Illinois 3 hours from Chicago needed an MRI. After being told the service would cost $4,000 at the local hospital, he turned to Symbiosis Health. He paid $385 and booked the appointment online, resulting in total savings of over $3,600 without making a single phone call.
  • A cost conscious consumer on a high deductible health plan had spent his own time searching prices for an ultrasound and the best deal he could secure was $1,000. After coming to Symbiosis Health, the patient was seen in his own home for just $145.

With savings like these, it’s not hard to see how Symbiosis Health can be a valuable tool for self-pay patients! If you’re in the Chicago or New York City areas, I’d encourage you to check out Symbiosis Health the next time you need medical imaging or lab testing done, and if you don’t live in those areas you might want to contact them and let them know there is a demand for their services in your area!

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2 Responses to Symbiosis Health brings transparency to self-pay prices

  1. The new wave for health care business is the “procedure broker”- here is an example. Thanks for the information- the consumers thank you. Folks will have to keep in mind that price often (not always) incorporates value. Don’t always go with the cheapest, unless you don’t care about quality. Take an MRI for example. A contemporary machine in a aesthetic, comfortable location with excellent board certified radiologist reading the results will definitely cost more than a back yard semi- trailer portable unit in the back roads of the country, read by a foreign radiologists whose credentials can’t be verified.

  2. Dr.Mullick says:

    You are right about great variation in prices for procedures.But as Dr.Marty Makary Of Johns Hopkins Hospital told Matt Lauer on TODAY on 10/30/2013,it is very important to know quality metrics of surgeons. Also access to a better hospital in case complications develop is important.
    In 2004,I was asked to do ERCP on 81 yr.old patient.Since I am trained in 7th year program for this advanced endoscopy after finishing my fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic-I always examine the patient’s history carefully. A few minutes before my procedure,this patient had cardiac arrest-but the attending nurse quick move saved the patient.It was saturday night–and with lack of top cardiologists on board,I decided to postpone this endoscopy procedure to Monday.
    My philosophy from my mentors at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic-is know your patient well.Don’t rush!!!
    We have American Colonoscopy & Endoscopy Center in our office,JCAHO certified and I am certified in advanced procedures from Univ.Of Virginia Digestive Disease Center in Charlottsville where I instructed other fellows also.We are located on 2631 Williamsburg Ave.,Geneva,Il.60134.
    As far as MRI– only 3 weeks ago we had MRI for our son at a major hospital ER read by a foreign radiologist at midnight.Report said 10 mm,15 mm Kidney stone.It shook me.But I took my son to another ER-MRI there showed no kidney stone.
    So watch out for cheapest MRI.

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