Welcome to clearhealthcosts.com
We’re bringing transparency to the health-care marketplace by telling people prices for medical procedures and items. By revealing prices, we are empowering consumers to make informed decisions about the costs of their medical care and coverage.
People should be able to know what things cost. If you knew that your MRI could cost $350 or $6,200, maybe you’d choose a different provider. Maybe you’d wonder if your insurance premiums were going up to pay high prices for procedures that could be obtained for less money. Maybe you’d think differently about the entire marketplace.
Increasingly, people are interested in health price information, as reported in a recent study by Public Agenda under funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We’re here to help.
We have recently won $54,000 in grant money to launch clearhealthcosts.com, from the Tow-Knight Foundation at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (Jeff Jarvis of “What Would Google Do?” and “Public Parts,” was my lead professor for the first grant); the International Womens Media Foundation, where Liza Gross (then the executive director) and her team are among our biggest supporters; and the McCormick Foundation’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs Program via J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, where Jan Schaffer and her team have opened doors for us because they believe so strongly in what we’re doing.
Why would anesthesia for a 30-minute surgery cost $2,000 or so one place and $6,000 at another place? Why would a simple procedure like a colonoscopy gain a $913 reimbursement one place in New York, and a $2,700 reimbursement at another place?
Among the biggest questions in health care today are these: Why can’t I know what medical procedures and items will cost in advance? Why do they cost so much? Why is it so hard to understand my bills?
We have recently been fortunate to join hands with partners: our PriceCheck prototype partnership placed our interactive widget on the web sites of public media partners, including KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC/Southern California public radio in Los Angeles, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
We have recently launched a new partnership with WHYY public radio in Philadelphia, joining hands with their journalists to crowdsource and report on health care prices in the Delaware Valley.
With those three partnerships, we grew our potential audience to 1.8 million monthly visitors! Here’s some of the reporting by us and about us in the California prototype, wrapped up in a group Tumblr. Here’s the project page for the WHYY partnership.
We have other partnerships in the works.
How to use our home page search engine
The front page displays our core procedures, with a link to a fuller collection of prices in our core areas — for right now, the New York area, including northern New Jersey and other suburbs; the San Francisco area and the Los Angeles area; and Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin San Antonio in Texas. More soon, so stay tuned.
The search box will help you find not just the core procedures, and our pricing survey results, but also the Medicare price for a procedure or item. The Medicare prices, paid by the government for people over 65 or disabled, are figured on a complicated formula based on an identifying code and a geographical area.
To price an MRI of the lower back in the New York area, HCPCS code 72148, you’ll type MRI or 72148 into the search box, make the appropriate choice, and see our pricing survey results of providers, displayed with the Medicare price. If you are looking for that same price in Boise, Idaho, or anywhere outside of our core areas, you’ll find just the Medicare price.
The identifying codes we use are the HCPCS or Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System, which is partially based on the American Medical Association’s Common Procedural Terminology system. There are 7,800 such codes, and the government uses 90 geographical areas to figure reimbursements. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services administers this system, and its page explaining all this is here. We made it easier to use.
On our site, the “advanced search” page — reached via the link from the search box — shows you the government’s regional breakdown, under “regions.”
These Medicare prices are the closest thing that exists to a fixed price in our medical marketplace. Some argue that Medicare prices are too low. We don’t want to take a position on that — we just want to make it easy for people to see what the government pays.
We know this seems immensely complicated, and it is. We’re making it as easy for you as we can.
Clearhealthcosts.com is here to help
With data from different sources – from our independent reporting, from health-care providers, from participating consumers and from databases – we are working to answer those questions. Want to help? Send in your prices, or email us at info [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com.