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More transparency in the cost of health care

Alisa Roth May 28, 2007
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More transparency in the cost of health care

Alisa Roth May 28, 2007
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BOB MOON: Let’s say your car needs new tires or an oil change. You can call the mechanic and find out exactly how much it’s going to cost. You could also call his competition down the block, and see if it might be cheaper there.

But what if you need a Hepatitis B vaccination, or an EKG? It’s pretty much been anybody’s guess how much those things might cost. Now, as Marketplace’s Alisa Roth reports, one California doctors’ group is trying to change that.


ALISA ROTH: At HealthCare Partners Medical Group in Southern California, a Hepatitis B vaccine will cost $137. That electrocardiogram: 45 bucks.

That information — and the cost of more than 50 other basic medical services — is listed on the company’s website. The list is intended to give people more information about the cost of medical care, and to let the group compete against walk-in clinics in drug stores and big-box retailers.

KAREN DESALVO: The idea of transparency, for some reason, has not really taken off in health care until just recently.

Doctor Karen Desalvo is at Tulane’s medical school. She says having prices out in the open will make things more fair — especially for the uninsured. They often end up paying a lot more for the same procedure. That’s because insurance companies can negotiate cheaper group rates — clout that the uninsured can’t take advantage of.

DESALVO: Posting the price sort of levels the playing field for everyone.

But Stefan Kertesz isn’t convinced. He’s a physician at the medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He thinks putting a price on procedures takes away from what it is the doctor does.

STEFAN KERTESZ: So most of the time, patients don’t shop for individual services. We shop for a person. That person is one who we want to know us, we want them to know our priorities and what kind of person we are. And then we want that person to take the time necessary to advise us on which tests we might actually need and which ones we don’t.

The company says it wants to make it easier for patients to figure out their health-care budgets now that more people are footing the bill for more of their health-care costs.

In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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