Summary: Our New Orleans partnership has brought a response that is off the charts in every way. We are a little more than two weeks from our launch, and we are hearing from 10-60 people a day with data and questions on health care pricing. We’re also the topic of conversation in the community. In our coming coverage, you will meet:
- The woman whose son incurred $2,200 in bills for treatment of common pinkeye.
- A veteran who is being dunned for payment of an $8,000-plus bill for two MRI’s on his back – MRI’s that were supposed to be covered by the Veterans Choice program for vets whose Veterans Administration treatments were not available, so they use non-V.A. care. In the New Orleans area, one can easily get an MRI or $500.
- A man who has been fighting a local hospital for months over a series of physical therapy visits that were billed as inpatient procedures – so they are extremely expensive, at about $890 apiece – while he was definitely an outpatient.
- The woman who called and left a voice message saying, “I’d like to submit some forms to you, but I am not privy to the internet.”
- Several patients who have received extremely high bills for colonoscopies, which they thought would be mostly covered under their insurance.
- A man whose regular primary care visits were around $100 and change, but who switched providers after his doctor retired – and received a bill for $400 and change for the same services.
- A specialist who left private practice and went to work for a hospital – which doubled his charges.
When and how we started
We launched with FOX 8 Live and NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune on April 5, the newest iteration of our crowdsourcing partnerships with media organizations nationwide.
Our primary reporting partners include FOX 8 Live’s Lee Zurik, a top-flight investigative reporter who with his team just won an Investigative Reporters and Editors award for this medication pricing series, and NOLA.com’s Jed Lipinski, also a top-flight investigative reporter with multiple prizes under his belt. They are ON FIRE.
Here’s Lee’s leadoff piece from the 10 o’clock news that day, and here’s his Facebook Live, certainly the best FB Live I have ever seen. Here’s Jed’s excellent leadoff piece from that morning. A blood test: $522 or $19?
In our partnerships, we survey providers in the metro area of our partners for their cash or self-pay prices for a range of 30-35 common, “shoppable” procedures. We put that data in a database that powers our interactive software.
That software, customized to our partners, is placed on our partners’ sites. Then we invite our community members to come over and share their information, building a community-created guide to health care prices. We ask them to tell us the procedure, provider, insurer, date of procedure, and what was charged, what insurance paid and what they paid. We also invite comments, and ask them to give us their email, phone and explanation of benefits if they wish to, to aid us in our reporting.
Our reported data, plus our community’s shared data, is displayed along with the price the government pays via Medicare for that service in that place, which is the closest thing to a fixed or benchmark price in the marketplace. In this way, we give our communities a 360-degree view of pricing.
Huge response, and why
In this partnership, our largest to date, we have seen the highest volume of engagement with our community of any partnership.
That’s partly, in our view, a result of having a larger audience. We think another factor in the huge response is apprehension about what’s happening in Washington.
Another hypothesis, which we cannot prove but can only say we feel, is that the level of outrage over medical costs is off the charts.
Add to that the fact that with the rise in deductibles, and with the changing business practices by both providers and payers (insurers) seeking to protect and enlarge their income, more and more individuals are paying more and more money, and they are really upset.
We have been doing this work for nearly 6 years now, and the emotional valence of the community response is higher here than anything we’ve seen before.
Among the voice we have heard so far are outrage, puzzlement, offers to help — and more outrage. We have had people call us to ask us to help them find prices (we can’t do that, but we invite people to use our software to search).
And we have heard voices like this one from Louisiana:
“To Whom it May Concern,
Please find attached some Explanation of Benefits that I was able to find. I hope it helps and I hope to be part of the solution. Thanks for all you do.”
For more from our series, go to this page describing the Cracking the Code partnership of NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune, WVUE FOX 8 Live and ClearHealthCosts, and cataloging our news coverage. For more on our national partnerships, go to this page.
DID YOU SAVE money with information from ClearHealthCosts or “Cracking the Code”? Tell us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
DO YOU HAVE PRICES to share to help build our community-created guide to health care? Or are you looking for price information?
Click over to our New Orleans PriceCheck interactive software at WVUE Fox 8 Live and at NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune. Search our prices in our New Orleans-focused partnership. For non-New Orleans shares and searches, here’s the search and share page on our national ClearHealthCosts site.
ARE YOU A PROVIDER wishing to share prices?
This page has a sample spreadsheet showing the data that will let us include your prices. Download, fill it out and return to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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 ClearHealthCosts.
She was previously a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. ClearHealthCosts has won grants from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; the International Women’s Media Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC in Los Angeles; the Lenfest Foundation in Philadelphia for a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and the New York State Health Foundation for a partnership with WNYC public radio/Gothamist in New York; and other honors.
Her TED talk about fixing health costs has surpassed 2 million views.