Welcome to ClearHealthCosts
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 rising insurance premiums were being used 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.
Who we are and what we do
We won a series of grants to launch ClearHealthCosts, 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 $5,400 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 big media partners to report on health pricing, separate from our home site.
The sources of our data: Our shoe-leather reporting; data journalism; and crowdsourcing — asking our community members to share their pricing information via our interactive software, so we gain a 360-degree view of health pricing.
Our PriceCheck pilot project with WNYC public radio in New York in 2013 led to a prototype partnership that placed our interactive widget on the web sites of two more public media partners, KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC/Southern California public radio in Los Angeles. This prototype partnership was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which supports innovations in journalism.
We then launched a partnership with WHYY public radio in Philadelphia, joining hands with their journalists to crowdsource and report on health care prices in the Delaware Valley.
We have a similar partnership with MedPage Today, a supplier of news, opinion and medical education for 670,000 providers nationwide.
Thousands of people have shared and searched prices via these partnerships.
Here’s a Harvard Business Review piece about our work with our media partners. We’ve been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR and USA Today. 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 more 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.
How to use our home page search engine
By using the home page search engine, you can see a combination of cash prices, government prices and crowdsourced prices. The fullest data sets are 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; Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio in Texas; the Philadelphia area; Miami; and Tampa-St. Petersburg.
Our data includes cash prices for 30-35 “shoppable” procedures, which we obtain by surveying providers. Other data is supplied by our community; beyond that, we have prices via government databases for the 7,800 procedures in the government price list.
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 may find only the Medicare price.
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, for 90 separate areas across the United States. These Medicare prices are the closest thing to a fixed or benchmark price in the marketplace.
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 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administer this system, and its page explaining all this is here. We made it easier to use.
We know this seems immensely complicated, and it is. We’re making it as easy for you as we can.
ClearHealthCosts 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.
Don’t miss the blog: there’s a wealth of information there. Use the search box to find what we’ve written about MRI’s, affordable psychotherapy, prescriptions and so on.
Want to help? Send in your prices by clicking here, or email us at info [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com.
Want to partner? Email us at partner [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com.