As the costs of health care soar, many con­sumers are look­ing for ways to con­trol their med­ical spend­ing. Also, with the rise of enroll­ment in high deductible health plans, con­sumers are pay­ing for more health care out-of-pock­et. From med­ical sav­ings accounts to dis­count plans for pre­scrip­tions, patients are grow­ing increas­ing­ly con­scious of prices for their health­care needs. Price shop­ping pro­ce­dures and providers allows you to com­pare prices so that you are get­ting the best val­ue for your care.

Why do you need to look beyond your near­by and famil­iar providers and loca­tions for health­care? Here’s a hypo­thet­i­cal exam­ple: Chris is a 45-year old male in good phys­i­cal health. Dur­ing his last check-up he men­tions to his doc­tor that he’s had some recent short­ness of breath and has been more tired as of late. His doc­tor orders an EKG to rule out any prob­lems. If Chris went to his local hos­pi­tal for this pro­ce­dure, it would cost $1150. He instead looks online and shops around to find oth­er providers in his area and finds he can get the same pro­ce­dure for $450 at a near­by imag­ing cen­ter. His poten­tial sav­ings is $700 sim­ply by research­ing locations.

So where do you start when shop­ping around for your health care?  A good place to begin is by research­ing your health plan online. Insur­ance com­pa­nies will post cost esti­mates based on facil­i­ty, physi­cian, and type of pro­ce­dure. Keep in mind that these are just esti­mates and may vary based on what cov­er­age you are enrolled in. Anoth­er way to shop is by check­ing out web­sites that have com­piled thou­sands of claims infor­ma­tion for var­i­ous pro­ce­dures and loca­tions to give an esti­mate of costs. How­ev­er, deci­pher­ing whether a site is report­ing esti­mates based on the “med­ical stick­er price” of charges or rates for pri­vate insur­ance plans or Medicare is dif­fi­cult.  There are huge dif­fer­ences in prices at dif­fer­ent providers for the exact same pro­ce­dure. This is because con­tracts between insur­ance agen­cies and providers vary based on nego­ti­at­ed amounts. This makes it hard to get con­sis­tent pric­ing information.

Check out these sites that do a great job com­par­ing apples to apples for providers:

  • Health­care Blue Book
    • What Kel­ly Blue Book is to cars, Health­care Blue Book is to med­ical pricing
  • New Choice Health
    • Reports on pric­ing of med­ical pro­ce­dures, providers, qual­i­ty of facil­i­ties, and cus­tomer feed­back for health­care in all 50 states
  • The Leapfrog Group
    • Pub­lish­es data on hos­pi­tals so patients can com­pare facil­i­ties and costs for treat­ments and procedures

After com­pil­ing all the infor­ma­tion on prices and pro­ce­dures, you can still call and nego­ti­ate costs with the loca­tion of your care. Fair Health Con­sumer has tips on how to nego­ti­ate with providers and plan for your health­care needs.

Knowl­edge is POWER and when you spend time research­ing and com­par­ing health­care costs, you are empow­er­ing your­self!  Exer­cis­ing due dili­gence to plan for you and your family’s med­ical needs will save you mon­ey and give you con­fi­dence in your deci­sions for care.