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BCBSNC Makes Some Medical Costs Public

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The state’s largest health insurance provider is making some medical costs public for the first time. BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina yesterday unveiled a website that lets anyone search how much doctors and hospitals charge for some of the most common non-emergency services. 

Transparency is probably not the first thing you associate with medical costs. In some cases, people may not find out the full price of their care until the bill arrives. BlueCross BlueShield says its customers wanted that to change.

“Our consumers are—I wouldn’t even say asking—I would say demanding this information,” says BlueCross Blue Shield’s chief medical officer, Dr. Susan Weaver. She says the company has offered cost information to its customers for about 3 years. The new website includes the cost of more medical procedures than before—about 1200 in all—and allows anyone to search the data. Adam Linker of the advocacy group Health Access Coalition says BlueCross wants its customers to be aware of what services cost before they have them.

“So if people, say, start asking hospitals, ‘why does my hip replacement cost so much money…why does my stint cost so much money?’” he says.

That would give BlueCross more leverage when it negotiates prices with doctors and hospitals, he says. And lower costs for the company would mean lower insurance premiums for customers.

Dr. Weaver points out that the medical services listed on the site are non-emergency procedures; so no price-shopping if you think you’re having a heart attack. And both Linker and Weaver agree that higher costs don’t necessarily mean better care.

BlueCross isn’t the first insurer to offer costs to the public. UnitedHealthCare released a smartphone app last year that includes the average prices for about 520 procedures.