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Industry Insights

Healthcare transparency should be main goal for nation

By ,
Paul Marden, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of N.J.
Paul Marden, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of N.J. - ()

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

Providing healthcare prices to consumers, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. healthcare 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 healthcare services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet a study by Families U.S.A. concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes. In Newark, a knee MRI can cost from $441 to $1,963 while the same procedure in Trenton can range from $445 to $3,432.

For consumers, there are new online and mobile resources available to access healthcare quality and cost information, helping them to comparison shop for healthcare 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 healthcare, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey

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 call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, or talk with their healthcare 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 company. It also encourages employees to take greater responsibility for their healthcare decisions and the cost of medical treatments, leading to higher engagement overall.

These resources can help people save money and select healthcare professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select healthcare 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 healthcare services pay 36 percent less than non-users. 

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