Summary: Our work with PriceCheck, our health cost transparency partnerships with media and other organizations, has stretched across the nation, bringing thousands of people to our partner web sites to share and search prices — from databases, from our reporting, and from our communities. Our interactive software is placed on our partners’ sites, using pricing information from three sources. First, we pre-populate the database with our survey of cash or self-pay pricing collected from local providers on common, shoppable procedures — or, sometimes, prices of bigger-ticket items. Second, we encourage community members to come and share their pricing information, from their bills or “explanation of benefits” forms from an insurer. Third, in most partnerships, we also display the Medicare reimbursement rate for a collection of 8,400 procedures catalogued in the Healthcare Common Procedural Coding System (HCPCS) used by the government in any different geographic regions. In this way, we display a 360-degree view of pricing. We don’t have every price for every procedure at every provider across the nation — that data does not exist anywhere — but we have a “community-created guide to health costs” that informs people and gives them a sense of agency in the bewildering world of health care pricing. People can share and search the data, and we use the data to write and tell about the costs of health care.
Here’s a bit about our partnerships.
California: San Francisco and Los Angeles
Our first PriceCheck project crowdsourcing health care prices in California, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is at this link in San Francisco, and at this link in Los Angeles. The reporting from the three partners — us at clearhealthcosts, KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC/Southern California Public Radio in Los Angeles — has been collected on this Tumblr.
Florida: Miami, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Health News Florida
We launched our Florida PriceCheck partnership in April 2016, crowdsourcing health prices with new partners WLRN public radio in Miami and WUSF public radio in Tampa Bay, and their Health News Florida collaboration.
In the first two days after launch, our web analytics show that we had visits from the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Insurance, the Florida Department of Health, Humana, UnitedHealthCare, Cigna, Aetna, the Blues, and about a dozen Florida hospitals. Also visiting: Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, the Washington State Attorney General, the Broward County Commission and scores of others.
Florida’s an interesting place. The legislature recently enacted one of the strongest state laws protecting consumers against surprise out-of-network medical bills. It also passed a law that seeks to give Florida one of the nation’s most robust healthcare price and quality transparency systems. While the bill has lofty aims, many other such transparency bills in other states have resulted in only partial achievement of price and quality transparency.
So our effort comes against a backdrop of lawmakers recognizing there’s a problem, and seeking to fix it.
“Consumers skeptical about the real cost of health care will soon have a resource where they can ask and share with their neighbors the price of common medical procedures,” Mary Shedden, news director of WUSF, wrote in announcing our partnership.
We also launched with WHYY public radio in Philadelphia, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Listen to our launch broadcast with Marty Moss-Coane, the leading Philadelphia radio talk show host of Radio Times.
For our news coverage, look here. Some examples: “What if restaurants billed like hospitals?” And “Patients want to price-shop for care, but many on-line tools are unreliable.”
New York City
Our initial pilot project with WNYC public radio in 2013 brought nearly 400 women to the WNYC pages to tell us what they were charged and what they paid for their mammograms.
The interactive tools are no longer active (WNYC overhauled its website) but we got a ton of traffic and great news coverage. We were also able to make interesting charts like this one, which shows the difference between charged price and payments for mammograms at hospitals and imaging centers. The price differences are dramatic. The blog post in which this is embedded is one of several we wrote during the project; there’s a list with links at the bottom of the piece.
Our New York pricing data, which you can find by using the search tools at the top of each page of our site, incorporates information from providers in New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut. In New Jersey, we have prices in northern New Jersey (the New York City metro area) and in southern New Jersey (the Philadelphia metro area).
Here’s our Medpage Today partnership, with links to coverage.
Here’s our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and here’s a post describing the Clearhealthcosts.com partnership with MedPage Today. Here’s the lead editor’s note, and here’s a moving essay by a doctor telling us why this is so important. And here’s a page with links to several MedPage Today posts.
In Texas, we have cash or self-pay pricing data for four cities: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin. You can find this data by using the search tools at the top of each page of our site.
We collected these prices in anticipation of a Texas partnership, but the partnership eventually did not materialize. The prices are somewhat dated. We did not remove them from the database because they are still useful: While not current, they reinforce the knowledge that prices in a given metro area can vary by a factor of as little as 3 or as much as 20, and people in search of procedures would do well to shop around.
Also, the current wave of mergers and acquisitions suggests that any attempt to keep current a list of prices is challenging at best, doomed at worst.
Our partnerships and their impact
Here’s a Harvard Business Review piece about our work with our media partners. There’s some more info about us below. We’ve been featured on NPR and in USA Today, and our partner Lisa Aliferis from KQED wrote about our work in JAMA Internal Medicine, and it was accompanied by a positive editor’s note from Rita Redberg, the JAMA editor, among other great earned media. (Look at our press page for some citations.)
We also have been asked to testify to the California State Senate Health Committee on transparency and we were cited in a Stanford Health-Anthem Blue Cross contract dispute.
We were also asked to supply information to Covered California and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
We have also been featured speakers at events including Politico Pro, the Department of Health and Human Services Datapalooza in Washington, the New York Ehealth Cooperative Patient Shark Tank (we won!) and Grantmakers in Health (for our demonstrated impact) and at other events and locations.