Would you ever walk into a car dealership, buy a car, and not know what it was going to cost you until you received the bill? What about picking a vacation package, handing over your credit card, and not knowing what the charges would be until the vacation was over? Of course you wouldn’t, nobody shops that way. But that is exactly what Americans do repeatedly with their healthcare. Why exactly do we go into our healthcare purchases blindly not knowing about medical prices?
There are actually a few reasons that nobody asks the price before going in for a medical procedure. The first is we often assume that all care is comparably priced. We think if we go to one place it will be the same as everywhere else. Besides this assumption, most people have insurance that pays out regardless of the price, so why bother shopping around? Many have the feeling that the procedure is necessary, and since all prices are comparable, you have to pay regardless. Finally, we feel that nobody really knows the cost of the whole procedure until it is over (and even if we call to try to find out, we get the runaround). Since it seems to be such a pain to figure out what you will end up paying, most people simply walk into the hospital and they pay whatever happens to show up on the bill.
The Surgery Center of Oklahoma is a collection of 40 surgeons and anesthesiologists who joined ranks 16 years ago. They operate independently from the hospitals. What makes them unique from nearly every other medical facility in America is that for the past 4 years they have been posting their prices for surgeries online. Easily accessible, easy to read, no gimmicks. There is no guesswork here. You need a tonsillectomy? That’s $3,050. You need an anterior cruciate ligament repair? That’s $6,990. And those prices are all inclusive (aside from irregular post-op complicated and a few others listed in their disclaimers).
The Surgery Center discovered that they could help revolutionize the healthcare industry by posting their prices online. But they take it one step further. They understand that healthcare costs are skyrocketing, and many people cannot afford the procedures that they need. So they are competitively priced; to the tune of about one fifth the cost of going to a hospital. By posting prices online, and being dramatically cheaper than others, they are causing quite the stir. Other medical providers see this and know they will have to follow suit, or their business could suffer.
Consumers will welcome upfront pricing structures since it is currently difficult to even find out an estimate of what the procedures will cost. There are ways to compare costs, but they are cumbersome to navigate. Many, such as Cost Report Data and American Hospital Directory, charge a fee to use the services. But that is changing; 40 states already have healthcare transparency laws on the books.
Healthcare is the only service we use that we don’t know what it will cost us until after the fact. It is foolish, yet it has been this way for many years. With the changing economy, changing healthcare, and many more Americans opting to pay out of pocket, we can only hope that the costs for healthcare will start to go down as we are able to price shop before we buy. What do you think? Would you like to see pricing structures such as the Oklahoma Surgery Center (if you didn’t look, check out their site, it is very easy to use)?