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Websites help patients compare prices for health care

Posted Aug 11 2010 12:35am
This article by Jillian Berman , was published in the July 30, 2010 issue of USA TODAY .

As Alan Grunberg neared 50, he knew he was going to need a colonoscopy, so the Chicago-based Realtor began shopping around to try and find the best place to get the procedure done.

"I couldn't get anybody to give me information on how much it was going to cost," he says, adding that his insurance wouldn't cover the procedure.

Grunberg eventually found PriceDoc.com and received multiple quotes. "The price was outstanding," he says. "I jumped on it."

PriceDoc is one of several sites that give consumers the ability to shop for procedures ranging from a colonoscopy to teeth whitening. In some cases, the sites allow consumers to negotiate with providers.

Steven Findlay, health analyst for Consumers Union, says sites listing prices for procedures can be helpful, but consumers shouldn't settle for the first price offered. Unlike traditional retailers, health providers don't usually advertise sales, he says.

Patrick Bradley, PriceDoc's co-founder, says his goal is to help consumers find a low price for services their insurers won't cover. Patients search by ZIP code for a list of doctors and their prices.

Some of the doctors listed on the site prefer to negotiate and include the "make me an offer" button on their profile, while others just list their lowest price, Bradley says.

"We've created a free, market-based competitive field if you're paying with cash," he says.

One drawback is that for some locations and procedures, the choices are limited. When Grunberg tried to use PriceDoc again to search for a dermatologist, he couldn't find any providers in his area. "I'm not going to travel 500 miles to have something done unless I need to do it," he says.

Bradley says most of the consumers using his site are looking for dental, vision, cosmetic and dermatology procedures. Many have individual insurance policies, which typically have high deductibles, or are paying for care out of a health savings account.

Mona Lori, founder of OutOfPocket.com , says her customers are primarily interested in prices for dental and vision procedures. Lori created the site, which offers a price-based directory of health care services, in 2007 after unsuccessfully trying to get providers to give her prices for various procedures.

Findlay says providers are gradually becoming more transparent with prices.

Brian Douglas, co-founder of New Choice Health , says that should be the goal. Douglas says he started NewChoiceHealth.com, which lists price ranges for procedures at various facilities, to "help educate the consumer that health care is retail.

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