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How much does your doctor’s visit/lab test/MRI/whatever, cost?

I don’t usually comment on health care costs – there are so many other people who have the economics and business background to address this important issue. I’m making an exception to highlight fellow Grinnellian, Jeanne Pinder, and her start-up, Clear Health Costs.

First, the bragging.

Jeanne is a Grinnell alum (like me!), and Grinnellians like to give each other a pat on the back. Grinnell is a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, and I always give it credit for instilling a great mix of academic excellence, creativity, independence, and integrity in its students and in me.

Clear Health Costs

Clear Health Costs

Jeanne Pinder left a career as a journalist at the NYTimes to found Clear Health Costs, a company that gathers information about health care costs and provides the information to the consumer. So, if you go to their website, you can specify the market (currently in NYC, SF, LA, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin) and look up prices for a walk-in clinic visit, mammogram, vasectomy, teeth filling, and much more. You can then CHOOSE where you want to go!!

This is clearly great for the consumer, but also very interesting for health geeks. Just why is there so much variation in costs?

Their work is getting good press from some important folks.

A JAMA Internal Medicine article,  “Variation in Prices for Common Medical Tests and Procedures” in November, reported on their initiative, PriceCheck, launched by KQED, KPCC and ClearHealthCosts to crowdsource health costs. PriceCheck found enormous variation,

“We next asked people to submit prices for lower back MRI. There was variation in prices paid by commercial insurers, government insurers, and cash prices. For CPT code 72148, we found that commercial insurers paid from $467 to $1567. But we found even greater variation when also reviewing additional types of payers not listed in the Table. Here, variation ranged from $255 to a self-pay price of $6221 at an academic medical center. The $255 price was for a patient covered by Medicare; the federal program’s payment was just a fraction of the facility’s charge of $2450.”

Following on the heels of the JAMA coverage, an article by Jeanne in the Harvard Business Review, and much more. I am most excited by the convergence of conversations across domains – from crowd sourced data to an editorial in JAMA. This is the way to address problems, and is a refreshing contrast to the days of yore when conversations in newspapers, television and academia did not overlap or cross-fertilize. Great to see the barriers breaking down, and a vigorous discussion emerge. Also great to see consumers meet and engage with health policy makers on common ground to address our irrational health cost structure, and, most inspiring, to see the profound value of information to shed light on areas needing transformation.

Very exciting!

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