stack of twenty dollar bills

stack of twenty dollar bills

As part of our mission to help you save money by beating back your health-care costs, we’re running a series  giving practical consumer advice about the marketplace. Here’s the first post about saving money (we suggest that you always ask the price in advance); here’s the second (even in an emergency, ask!);  following is the third.

Do you really want to make medical decisions based solely on price?

If you’re buying a tomato or a car, your purchasing decisions are based not just on price but also on quality. Rolls Royce or Honda? Bentley or Kia? The same is presumably true with medical treatment.

Obviously, it’s complicated, though, by the fact that you might not be feeling well when you make a decision about medical treatment. You might well be anxious. You might well feel that asking the price of something changes the way your provider views you, and not for the better. You’re hoping for the best outcome, the most reliable test, the least pain and so on.

We don’t want to make suggestions about your medical decisions. That’s for you alone.

We personally do not think medical decisions should be based solely on price. But we do think that the current system – when the customer has no idea of what a service or a procedure or an item will cost – should be more transparent.

There’s also the counterintuitive notion that price itself has power, espoused by, among others, Dan Ariely, the writer of  “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.” His idea is that when people pay more for something they think it’s better, explaining why a 50-cent aspirin works better    

than a 1-cent aspirin. He writes: “The Bayer aspirin and the Rolex watch seem valuable because of how much they cost, not because they’re better in practical terms than a generic aspirin or a Timex.” It’s not clear whether a $50,000 aspirin would work better, but he argues that price works in complicated ways on our decision-making processes.

That aside, it seems clear that the system we have now doesn’t encourage savings or thoughtfulness. From a patient’s perspective, you are essentially obliged to go seek treatment with little knowledge of costs (or charges, or prices). When you have received whatever care you’ve received, you pay (if you’re uninsured or on a high-deductible plan) or you leave and six months later receive an explanation of benefits that explains exactly nothing.

Our service here consists of finding and revealing as much pricing information as possible, so you can factor price in to your decision-making should you see fit.

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As always, our posts should in no way be construed as offering medical advice. We are strictly about pricing. Our stated mission is to bring transparency to the health-care marketplace. Your decisions about treatment, providers and anything else belong strictly to you.

We’re starting this series with this list of topics. Send us your suggestions to!

1.    Ask the price in advance.

2.    Even if it’s an emergency, ask the price in advance.

3.    Some people think you shouldn’t ask the price in advance.

4.    Do you really want to make medical decisions based solely on price?

5.    Hospital and other rates are regulated by somebody, aren’t they? So there’s not really a great deal of variance. Wait, they’re not regulated?

6.    The new movement toward “consumer-driven health care” will change the entire equation, and bring consumers to the fore, thus reducing costs. (Keep a hand on your wallet.)

7.    Get someone’s name, and keep it–in general, keep careful records.

8.    Know what your plan covers.

9.    Read the small print. Ask questions if you don’t understand.

10.  Read the doctor’s bill. Ask questions if you don’t understand.

11.  Read the explanation of benefits from the insurance company. Ask questions if you don’t understand.

Send us your suggestions to info [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com, and thanks!

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...