Transparency, Castlight and us, or, How much does an MRI cost?

Filed Under: Costs, Health plans, Patients


SUMMARY: Everybody knows how excited we are to be part of the  growing transparency movement in the health-care marketplace. So you can guess how happy we were to see this piece in “Wonkbook” on the Washington Post web site, titled “How much does an MRI cost? In D.C., anywhere from $400 to $1,861.”


This article is based on information from Castlight, a big venture-funded  company based in California. They talk a lot about  transparency; their business model is taking employer-supplied health care records, processing them for price and then returning them in the form of a collection of software and data usable by employers and their employees for reducing health-care costs.

thanks castlight

To have access to real, actionable information from Castlight, you must be an employee of a company that is a Castlight customer. That’s the big way we differ from them: They’re business-to-business, and we’re making our information directly available to the consumer.

What we supply to anyone who comes to our Web site: cash or self-pay prices, along with addresses and phone numbers, for various procedures. If you want a $450 MRI, for example, we’ll give you the name of the provider. Also the phone number and address. If you want to know how your provider’s price or your insurer’s price stack up, you can  see our data. We do a journalistically responsible price survey of  providers, including notes. We don’t get our data from payers or from employers. We get it directly from providers.

So it was exciting to see this Castlight-Wonkblog map, but … what’s missing?

The map says that the locations of the pins on the map “have been changed slightly to maintain the anonymity of providers.”

So readers can know the prices, but not who’s offering them.

Transparency means different things to different people, I guess.

We’re also happy when people talk about price, but we try to ask whenever we can what is meant by price. Is that the list price? The price to a cash-paying customer? The price the insurance company pays? Quite often they’re completely different numbers. We’re not sure from this post  which price is being quoted.

We’ve been around the Web with this question of “how much does an MRI cost,” for  quite a while … as you know if you follow us  (see many posts on our blog like these, see our entire site, see this Feb. 27 tweet referring to a post that we reproduce here, part of a series). So it makes us really happy to see other people asking the same question in so many words.

Welcome to the world of  transparency!