When I recently decided to shop around for a pelvic ultrasound ordered by my doctor, I discovered something sobering:
Within a 7-mile radius in greater Boston, the pricetag for the very same diagnostic test varied widely, from $500 to $2,500. “Eye-opening,” was the way Robert Seifert, a principal associate at the Center for Health Law and Economics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, described it.
My family, like most in Massachusetts, has health insurance that covers this type of test, so normally I wouldn’t have cared too much about the cost. But I was motivated to find out because a colleague, WBUR’s Martha Bebinger just launched a new social networking site, Healthcare Savvy, that allows patients to compare prices, share ideas on bringing down the cost of health care and generally vent.
So, inspired by this new community, I set out to do something radical: comparison shop for health care. Here’s what I learned:
At the prestigious downtown Boston teaching hospital, Massachusetts General, I was quoted a price of $2,563 for my ultrasound. At the well-respected community hospital, Mount Auburn in Cambridge (where both of my children were born), the price was $971.96. At Diagnostic Ultrasound Associates, the stand-alone imaging center in the Longwood section of town, I was told the price was $519. (After I posted my story on the Savvy site, I got a note from the interim CEO of another Harvard teaching hospital, Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center, who said at his hospital, the test would be $307. Sold.)
With national health reform unfolding, and pressure mounting for greater price transparency and lower costs, patients are being pushed, inexorably, to become smarter health-care shoppers. Right now, most of us still have “no skin in the game” as the policy types like to say, meaning, essentially, we don’t feel the pain of paying for our health care. Sure, we cough up cash for co-pays and deductibles, but for the majority of families and individuals, insurance pretty much covers the bills and we remain blithely ignorant about what our health care actually costs.