(Updated, September 2019) Our work with PriceCheck, our health cost transparency partnerships with media and other organizations, has stretched across the nation, bringing thousands of people to our partner web sites to share and search prices — from databases, from our reporting, and from our communities.
We build interactive software and place it on our partners’ sites, using pricing information from three sources. First, we survey local providers for their cash or self-pay prices on common, shoppable procedures — or, sometimes, prices of bigger-ticket items. We use that data to pre-populate a database. Second, we encourage community members to come and share their pricing information, from their bills or “explanation of benefits” forms from an insurer. Third, we also display the Medicare reimbursement rate for a collection of thousands of procedures catalogued in the Healthcare Common Procedural Coding System (HCPCS) used by the government in different geographic regions.
In this way, we display a 360-degree view of pricing. We don’t have every price for every procedure at every provider across the nation — that data does not exist anywhere — but we have a “community-created guide to health costs” that informs people and gives them a sense of agency in the bewildering world of health care pricing. People can share and search the data, and we use the data to write and tell about the costs of health care.
Here’s a bit about our partnerships.
We launched our CBS News partnership in September 2019, under the name “Medical Price Roulette.”
Here’s the first story from Anna Werner, national consumer investigative correspondent at CBS This Morning. She interviewed Frank Esposito, who faced close to $700,000 in medical costs after receiving surgery after an emergency room visit for a herniated disk. He says doctors told him he could have been partially paralyzed if he did not have immediate surgery. He had insurance, but just weeks after the surgery, the bills came rolling in. His insurance company claimed the surgery was not medically necessary. He has hired a professional to fight back and has tapped into his retirement account to pay bills.
Our work will be featured on CBS This Morning (7-9 A.M. ET), CBS Evening News (6:30-7 P.M. ET) and the CBSN streaming network, as well as the CBS News Radio Network and other CBS properties.
We’ll use shoe-leather reporting, crowdsourcing, data journalism and other tools to tell people what stuff costs. We started out with a survey of cash or self-pay prices in two sample cities — Dallas and San Francisco — and we’re asking people across the nation to share their prices with us to help in our reporting.
“Medical Price Roulette” will explore the problems and solutions surrounding the lack of transparency of medical costs charged by hospitals and providers and why they vary – often dramatically. We started by collecting the prices of 30-35 common, “shoppable” medical procedures in those two metro areas and discovered drastic variations we’ve seen in other cities across the nation. Here’s the teaser they ran on Sept. 20.
Here’s the project page, which will collect all of our work.
“Consumers often complain of suffering from health care bill sticker shock after undergoing a medical procedure,” said Kimberly Godwin, CBS News’ Executive Vice President of News. “This important series will take a deep dive on this topic and shed light on why the same test can cost different prices, why medical bills are hard to understand and what steps people can take to avoid being surprised by medical bills in the future.”
CBS News is the news and information division of CBS Corporation, dedicated to providing the highest quality journalism under standards it pioneered and continues to set in today’s digital age. Headquartered in the famed CBS Broadcast Center in New York, CBS News has bureaus across the globe and produces influential, critically acclaimed programs providing original reporting, interviews, investigations, analysis and breaking news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. CBS News provides news and information for the CBS Television Network, CBSN, CBSNews.com, CBS News Radio and CBS Mobile. CBS News is home to the nation’s #1 news program, 60 MINUTES, CBSN, the 24/7 digital streaming news network, and the award winning broadcasts CBS THIS MORNING, THE CBS EVENING NEWS, CBS SUNDAY MORNING, 48 HOURS and FACE THE NATION.
WVUE FOX 8 News, owned by Louisiana Media Company, and operated by Raycom Media, leads New Orleans, Louisiana, the state and the region in the field of broadcast investigative journalism. Lee Zurik, the chief investigative reporter and anchor, has won multiple Murrow, Peabody, Dupont, IRE and other awards for investigative journalism, including one in April 2017 from the Investigative Reporters and Editors for his series “Medical Waste,” about health care pricing.
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune is part of the largest media company in Louisiana, delivering news and information with an intense focus on communities, reaching an audience of 7 million unique readers each month. Jed Lipinski, our primary partner there, has been part of multiple award-winning journalism projects. He is joined by Manuel Torres, also a multiple award-winner.
This page on our home site has a listing of all the coverage.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Daily News, philly.com and 6ABC
We’re launching a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com, and their partner 6ABC News.
The partnership is funded under the first funding round for innovation in journalism from the Lenfest Institute, the nonprofit parent of The Inquirer, The Daily News and philly.com. We’ll use shoe-leather reporting, crowdsourcing, data journalism and other tools to tell people what stuff costs in partnership with the city’s top television investigative team at 6ABC, WPVI news.
The project was one of several in a $2 million round of funding, the Lenfest Institute’s first, announced recently. In the category of “public service and investigative journalism,” in the Philadelphia-centered part of the grant funding announcement, our work is described in these words: “Consumer Healthcare Coverage: PMN will add both reporting and web-development capabilities to examine local healthcare data and issues related to health costs and quality to help consumers make more informed decisions.” The grant announcement is here.
“We were delighted by the response to our open call for innovative ideas to help advance the business of local journalism,” said Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Institute. “The Institute was founded with the belief that local journalism depends for its success on investment in high-impact news content, best-of-breed digital product development, and the cultivation of a new, diverse and growing audience of readers,” Friedlich said.
About the institute, from its web site: “The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is the first-of-its-kind non-profit organization whose sole mission is to develop and support sustainable business models for great local journalism. The Institute was founded in 2016 by cable television entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest. Lenfest gifted to the Institute an initial endowment of $20 million, which has since been supplemented by other donors, for investment in innovative news initiatives, new technology, and new models for sustainable journalism. Lenfest also gifted his ownership of the Philadelphia Media Network (The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and philly.com, the Philadelphia region’s largest local news website) and these news properties now serve as a live lab for the Institute’s innovation efforts. … The Philadelphia news properties are now the largest newspapers in America operated as a public-benefit corporation, under the non-profit ownership of the Institute, dedicated solely to the mission of preserving local journalism nationwide. ”
California: San Francisco and Los Angeles
Our first PriceCheck project crowdsourcing health care prices in California, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is at this link in San Francisco, and at this link in Los Angeles. The reporting from the three partners — us at clearhealthcosts, KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC/Southern California Public Radio in Los Angeles — has been collected on this Tumblr.
Florida: Miami, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Health News Florida
We launched our Florida PriceCheck partnership in April 2016, crowdsourcing health prices with new partners WLRN public radio in Miami and WUSF public radio in Tampa Bay, and their Health News Florida collaboration.
In the first two days after launch, our web analytics show that we had visits from the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Insurance, the Florida Department of Health, Humana, UnitedHealthCare, Cigna, Aetna, the Blues, and about a dozen Florida hospitals. Also visiting: Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, the Washington State Attorney General, the Broward County Commission and scores of others.
Florida’s an interesting place. The legislature recently enacted one of the strongest state laws protecting consumers against surprise out-of-network medical bills. It also passed a law that seeks to give Florida one of the nation’s most robust healthcare price and quality transparency systems. While the bill has lofty aims, many other such transparency bills in other states have resulted in only partial achievement of price and quality transparency.
So our effort comes against a backdrop of lawmakers recognizing there’s a problem, and seeking to fix it.
“Consumers skeptical about the real cost of health care will soon have a resource where they can ask and share with their neighbors the price of common medical procedures,” Mary Shedden, news director of WUSF, wrote in announcing our partnership.
We also launched with WHYY public radio in Philadelphia, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Listen to our launch broadcast with Marty Moss-Coane, the leading Philadelphia radio talk show host of Radio Times.
For our news coverage, look here. Some examples: “What if restaurants billed like hospitals?” And “Patients want to price-shop for care, but many on-line tools are unreliable.”
New York City
Our initial pilot project with WNYC public radio in 2013 brought nearly 400 women to the WNYC pages to tell us what they were charged and what they paid for their mammograms.
The interactive tools are no longer active (WNYC overhauled its website) but we got a ton of traffic and great news coverage. We were also able to make interesting charts like this one, which shows the difference between charged price and payments for mammograms at hospitals and imaging centers. The price differences are dramatic. The blog post in which this is embedded is one of several we wrote during the project; there’s a list with links at the bottom of the piece.
Our New York pricing data, which you can find by using the search tools at the top of each page of our site, incorporates information from providers in New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut. In New Jersey, we have prices in northern New Jersey (the New York City metro area) and in southern New Jersey (the Philadelphia metro area).
Here’s our Medpage Today partnership, with links to coverage.
Here’s our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and here’s a post describing the Clearhealthcosts.com partnership with MedPage Today. Here’s the lead editor’s note, and here’s a moving essay by a doctor telling us why this is so important. And here’s a page with links to several MedPage Today posts.
In Texas, we have cash or self-pay pricing data for four cities: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin. You can find this data by using the search tools at the top of each page of our site.
We collected these prices in anticipation of a Texas partnership, but the partnership eventually did not materialize. The prices are somewhat dated. We did not remove them from the database because they are still useful: While not current, they reinforce the knowledge that prices in a given metro area can vary by a factor of as little as 3 or as much as 20, and people in search of procedures would do well to shop around.
Also, the current wave of mergers and acquisitions suggests that any attempt to keep current a list of prices is challenging at best, doomed at worst.
Our partnerships and their impact
Our New Orleans partnership established a new level of impact. We heard from thousands and thousands of people via our software, through email and voicemail, and in comments on our stories and on our social media accounts.
Our work was instrumental in passing consumer protection legislation in Louisiana, legislation that had stalled in the Legislature for 10 years.
We also won multiple prizes — an Edward R. Murrow national award, and a Society for Professional Journalists national public service gold medal. We were finalists for the prestigious Peabody Award — one of 60 nationwide, along with prestigious organizations like PBS, CBS, the BBC, CNN, Netflix, The New York Times — and while we were not chosen one of the 30 finalists, we were honored to be in this company. Our work also won multiple local and regional awards — several regional Murrow awards, a Suncoast Emmy and multiple awards in Investigative/Public Service and Public Affairs categories at the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press Broadcasters and Media Editors awards ceremony.
Here’s a Harvard Business Review piece about our work with our media partners. There’s some more info about us below. We’ve been featured on NPR and in USA Today, and our partner Lisa Aliferis from KQED wrote about our work in JAMA Internal Medicine, and it was accompanied by a positive editor’s note from Rita Redberg, the JAMA editor, among other great earned media. (Look at our press page for some citations.)
We also have been asked to testify to the California State Senate Health Committee on transparency and we were cited in a Stanford Health-Anthem Blue Cross contract dispute.
We were also asked to supply information to Covered California and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
We have also been featured speakers at events including Politico Pro, the Department of Health and Human Services Datapalooza in Washington, the New York Ehealth Cooperative Patient Shark Tank (we won!) and Grantmakers in Health (for our demonstrated impact) and at other events and locations.