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Guest view: Price transparency is among keys to better health system

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As our nation seeks solutions to help improve the health care system, there is at least one goal we can all agree on: the importance of making health care quality and cost information more accessible to all Pennsylvania residents.

Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.

That is in part because there are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet a study by Families USA concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes. In Philadelphia, a knee MRI can cost anywhere from $714 to $4,991 while the same procedure in Pittsburgh can range from $445 to $1,975.

For consumers, there are new online and mobile resources available to access health care quality and cost information, helping them to comparison-shop for health care as they would with other consumer products and services. And people are starting to take action: Nearly one-third of Americans have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012.

These resources are far more accurate and useful than those of past generations, and in some cases provide people with estimates based on actual contracted rates with physicians and hospitals, including likely out-of-pocket costs based on their current health plan benefits. Some resources also include quality information about specific physicians, as determined by independent standards.

Consumers can also call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, or talk with their health care professional about alternative treatment settings, including urgent care and telehealth options. Public websites, such as www.uhc.com/transparency and www.guroo.com, also can help enable access to market-average prices for hundreds of medical services in cities nationwide.

For employers, cost transparency helps employees use their benefits efficiently, which can help save money for their companies. It also encourages employees to take greater responsibility for their health care decisions and the cost of medical treatments, leading to higher engagement overall.

These resources can help people save money and select health care professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select health care providers rated on quality and cost-efficiency across all specialties, including for primary care (7 percent more likely) and orthopedics (9 percent more likely). In addition, the analysis found that people who use the transparency resources before receiving health care services pay 36 percent less than non-users.

Dan Tropeano is CEO of UnitedHealthcare, Pennsylvania and Delaware. He oversees the company’s commercial health benefits business in both states.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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