HealthLeaders-InterStudy, a leading provider of managed care market intelligence, reports that the recently launched Health Cost Estimator from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is part of a growing movement among health insurers to take the mystery out of health costs. According to the latest North & South Carolina Health Plan Analysis, the plan's recent move is more about creating awareness of healthcare costs in the short term and encouraging members to seek cheaper site options for care.
"One of the most innovative aspects of the estimator, besides the fact that contracted prices are used instead of provider charges, is an option that offers the total estimated costs for the entire course of treatment," states Heather Wicks, analyst for HealthLeaders-InterStudy and author of the report.
Most of the major carriers are trying to push out some level of cost and pricing information to consumers. CIGNA HealthCare offers tools in limited areas that provide information about average costs for outpatient surgery procedures and radiology. Humana members in some areas have access to average hospital costs for procedures; and Aetna offers members physician-specific pricing for 30 common services.
Members with the most motivation to check out the prices are consumer- driven health plan enrollees, those who are mostly in a high-deductible PPO tied to a health savings account and who pay more costs out of pocket. These health plans were thought to have a big impact on reducing healthcare costs, but those savings have not materialized in the way many had expected. The Blue's plan pricing information is just one piece of the total solution needed for consumers. The insurer intends to offer quality information as it expands its tool.
For additional insight into the Health Cost Estimator, log on to our website to download an audio interview with Heather Wicks, our market analyst covering the North and South Carolina healthcare markets.
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