The HealthCareSavvy story: More clarity on health costs

HealthCareSavvy is a new online community project exploring prices and quality of health care, started by our friend Martha Bebinger, a veteran reporter at WBUR, the NPR radio station in Boston. From the site: “We are a community of patients who are starting to shop for health care based on quality and cost. Have you thought about whether you are getting the best care for the best price? Share your experiences. Read about ours. Post a tip or a resource. Ask questions! Browse at your leisure.” We asked Martha to answer a few questions.

Great idea — where did you come up with it?

I’m covering the debate in Massachusetts about how to rein in health care spending. Most of the discussion is between experts of various kinds in high-level board rooms or windowless chambers. A lot of regular folks ask me questions, but there has not been an easy place for us to join the conversation. Healthcare Savvy is a place to ask your questions about health care costs and share your experiences or tips about how to shop for the best care at the best price.

What’s the most striking price story you’ve heard?

There’s a post up  from Stephanie B. about shopping for the price of a circumcision for her 14-month-old son. She was quoted $23,000 at one of the most expensive hospitals in Boston. One of my colleagues, Rachel Zimmerman, compared that to the charge quoted by a local mohel, about $1,000.

The stories aren’t just about prices or bills or who offers the best quality care. Amy Lischko has a great story about low tech care. Her son had a Plantar’s wart but didn’t like the freezing process doctors commonly use to remove the wart. Amy heard about the duct tape remedy and wrote about that on Healthcare Savvy.

What reactions have you gotten from providers, doctors or hospitals or others?

About 10% of the members so far are doctors. As you might expect, some doctors are excited to deal with costs and others aren’t. One hospital CEO started a mini-pricing war over what his hospital charges for ultrasounds. The Massachusetts Hospital Association has been helpful in reviewing some of the resource pages and Massachusetts Medical Society helped write the tips page on how to talk to your doctor about costs. Overall I’d say providers are interested but wary.

What reactions have you gotten from insurers?

One insurer promoted the site to its employees in a newsletter.  I’ve heard from other executives who like the idea and are anxious to monitor the conversation on the site.  Some members are posting complaints about insurers, billing and charges.  The insurance companies are not responding to these complaints on the site yet.

 If you haven’t had a chance, stop on over to HealthCareSavvy. The conversation is fascinating. By the way, Boston is a happening place for the conversation on health-care costs. Our friend Neel Shah and his new costsofcare.org essay contest are well worth a look, too.