What is your goal?
To bring transparency to the health-care marketplace.
The health-care market in the United States is opaque. People don’t typically know what procedures and items will cost before they take place. Does everyone charge $400 for an MRI, or is it $3,000? Does one insurance company pay out more for a mammogram than another, and why? My doctor charges one price, the insurance company reimburses another – but how much am I actually paying?
Increasingly, people who are uninsured or on high-deductible plans — instead of the standard $20 PPO co-pay — want to know prices.
Also, if my insurance company is paying $2,300 for an MRI and they could get it for $400, or $600, is that one reason my premiums are going up?
Of course price is not the only consideration, but it’s a big one. In any other marketplace – buying a car, hiring a plumber, buying a tomato – price enters into the equation before you commit to a purchase. In a market where prices are hard to find, consumers can’t make rational decisions.
This site should in no way be construed as offering medical advice. Our stated mission is to bring transparency to the health-care marketplace. Your decisions about treatment, providers and anything else belong strictly to you.
Armed with price information, consumers will be able to use cost (as well as other factors) to choose a doctor, choose a hospital, budget for a medical expenditure, or argue with the insurance company. An informed consumer can make better, more thoughtful choices about insurance: High premium or low? High deductible or low? PPO or no?
We are bringing you as much price information as we can.
How are you doing it?
We are combining rigorous, newsy reporting with community involvement to create a transparency platform, a collection of solid, useful information, of several kinds:
- Newsy reporting about prices in the health-care marketplace.
- A collection of curated Web resources on this topic, including batch data and helpful sites.
- Your price information: crowdsourced, anonymously supplied, specific information about medical costs.
- A blog and other forms of explanation, including articles by, and interviews with, people who can give us answers, and also links to newsy items.
What makes you think you can fix this by yourselves?
All of us is smarter than one of us. By sharing information, we can illuminate some of these dark corners, and we will all be better off.
You received a crazy bill? Tell us about it. Your claim was denied? Tell us about it. That person on the phone at the insurance company? Something similar probably just happened to him, and we want to hear from him, too. You won an argument with the insurance company? Tell us.
Other markets have been changed by transparency and technology. Think of real estate sales, airline ticket prices and car sales. All these markets were characterized by information asymmetry. All have changed with transparency.
Great! What do you need from me?
Fill out our surveys. Send us suggestions. Comment on our stories. Tweet us, blog us, retweet us. Send us your horror stories, your tales of triumph and derring-do from the medical world. Tell us what you think about what we’re doing. Tell your friends to come on over. Give us an idea of what we can do to make it better.
How do I get this to you?
We’re welcoming people to share their information.
Read our blog, and feel free to comment. Here’s our e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Write often.
Why would I share this personal information with a stranger, and the Internet?
We want you to contribute your information anonymously and honestly. Together, we can bring badly needed transparency to the health-care marketplace. Because we all contribute our information, the pool of knowledge becomes larger.
How is this project funded?
Clearhealthcosts.com founder Jeanne Pinder won a $20,000 award in December 2010 from the fabulous folks at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York to help launch the project. She also won a second $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation via the International Women’s Media Foundation for the project in spring 2011. In March 2012, ClearHealthCosts was chosen one of four winners in the McCormick Foundation New Media Women Entrepreneurs project, an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. In spring 2014, the Prototype Fund of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation granted $35,000 to ClearHealthCosts and its partners, KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC/Southern California Public Radio in Los Angeles, to launch PriceCheck, a project creating a reported and crowdsourced database of health prices in California. Beyond that, and some gratefully acknowledged “friends and family” investments, all the funding comes out of Pinder’s own not-at-all-deep pocket.
What is your editorial bias?
We’d like to be a voice for, and a source for, the informed consumer. People who know more about the costs of their medical care will be better consumers. We also think that sunlight improves just about everything, so we hope to shine sunlight in any number of dark corners.
Do you have donors and sponsors, and if so, what influence do they have on your editorial decisions?
Other than the grant money noted above, we have a tiny bit of investment money. We are committed to making editorial decisions ourselves, independent of any money that changes hands.
Wait: you’re a for-profit? What’s up with that?
We’ve been asked several times recently why we’re a for-profit and not a nonprofit. Here’s why: We are a for-profit because we were founded out of the entrepreneurial journalism class at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, run by Jeff Jarvis and Jeremy Caplan, which has grown into the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY J-School.
One of the missions of that class (now a full master’s degree and a certificate program) is to develop sustainable business models for journalism. Jarvis would not let any of us be nonprofits: he said that’s not a business model. So, we are a journalism for-profit, as are The New York Times, Gannett and many other news organizations.
Frankly, as we look at the changing journalism landscape, it seems that big nonprofits like ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and The Marshall Project are more flush than the for-profits like The New York Times and The Tribune Company, which are still supporting legacy structures like pensions and printing presses.
We agree with Emily Bell, Clay Shirky and C.W. Anderson, who wrote in their paper on “PostIndustrial Journalism” about this issue at length, including this statement: “To reiterate our position: Most of the for-profit vs. nonprofit discussion is useless. Any way of keeping expenses below revenue is a good way.”
Also, on the nonprofit for-profit distinction: in the health care marketplace, the distinction is hard to parse. Nonprofit hospitals can be every bit as saintly or as greedy as for-profits; nonprofits do not pay taxes, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not looking for a strong business model, examining their books to maximize revenue, and sometimes engaging in questionable business practices.
It can be a topsy-turvy world. Look, for example, at this story that came through our PriceCheck reporting: For-profit Anthem Blue Cross is criticizing nonprofit Stanford Health for charging so much for health care, citing PriceCheck as a responsible third-party source of neutral information. That’s what we want to be as journalists: responsible sources. For-profit or nonprofit is an organizational choice, not a religion.
One of my friends, a venture person, has also applauded this choice, saying “There’s something very pure about making something that people will pay money for.”
Furthermore, our for-profit status excludes us from certain opportunities — a whole series of grants, for example. This status, then, leaves us with the opportunity to pay taxes if we ever make money, to help carry the tax burden of nonprofit journalists, yet we cannot raise foundation money from the same sources that will keep them healthy.
We want to be very clear here: We don’t oppose nonprofits, but we don’t think that nonprofit status confers automatic sainthood or intrinsic value. Also, if given an even-up choice right now, it’s possible that the big for-profits –- The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett -– would choose a nonprofit model to escape the tax burden and also avail themselves of foundation money.
Also, within the for-profit world: Is The New York Times the same kind of for-profit that Bloomberg News is? Conversely, nonprofits: is Inside Climate News or MinnPost the same kind of nonprofit that The Texas Tribune is?
You allow anonymous survey contributions, but you want people to give their names when commenting on the site. Why?
People supplying us information that might affect their health-care coverage should be allowed to contribute anonymously. When it comes to comments, we like it when people give their full names, because we — like the editors of The New York Times, where we spent many a happy day –- think it promotes civil discourse. We hope to have a free and energetic discussion. In that context, we have borrowed the comments policy of The Times, which you can find here and here.
That said, anonymity can be important in this arena, and if you need to be anonymous, we will understand -– though we expect civility from everyone.
How many reporters and staff do you have?
We have a robust and ever-growing constellation of thoughtful, dedicated freelancers, consultants, advisers and contributors who believe in our mission, and without whom this would not be possible.