doctors exam room
Allergy tests cost. Published on Flickr by Parker Knight, Creative Commons attribution license

When ClearHealthCosts was featured in a piece on the Houston TV station KPRC on Feb. 19, we got a lot of attention, and a flood of visitors. Here’s the piece, and here’s a blog post on our site about it.

One of the reactions was from a doctor’s office, where the billing manager reached out to KPRC say that we had some incorrect information on the site, and to ask if we would take it down.

The doctor is Dr. Edward W. Leahey. We had a price for a cardiovascular stress test of $125 (under two CPT codes, 93015 and 93017), and for an echocardiogram with Doppler of $300 (CPT code 93306).

To recap our methodology: We survey doctors, hospitals and labs in the cities we work in, asking them their cash or self-pay prices for a range of common, “shoppable” procedures. Our methodology, refined over the years, has had very little pushback from providers. We ask a standardized set of questions, identify ourselves as researchers (and not patients) and get very consistent results. Here’s a description of our methodology.

When Dr. Leahey’s office got in touch with KPRC, KPRC got in touch with us. I asked KPRC to give our contacts to the office, so we could discuss with them.

Johnelle Davison, billing manager, emailed and we talked on the phone. She said, “The only way we see a self-pay patient is if they have a device that we have implanted, like a pacemaker or a defibrillator.”

She said Leahey “continues to treat them because he is responsible for that patient because he put the device into them.”

If a patient gets other insurance that Leahey doesn’t take, she said, they go to see someone else who does take their insurance.

“If they come in and say, ‘I Lost my job and lost my insurance,’ he feels liable, and we continue to treat them,” she added. But if someone comes in off the street and says he or she is uninsured, they won’t be able to receive treatment, she added, unless it’s a personal friend or a family member.

So we changed the entry to say the price is 0, and added the note “No self-pay patients.” (Our database requires that we enter a number, and we explain that 0 with a notes field like this one, or “No prices over the phone.”)

We have had responses like this from three or four providers in our database since 2011: One said she was sure the price had been given to us incorrectly, so we changed it. One provider called to say that he had sold his practice to a hospital, which doubled his rates, and he didn’t want to be listed as the highest-price provider in his city. We asked if the price was wrong, and he said no, so we didn’t change it.

Jeanne Pinder

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...