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Washington Post: Maryland to offer online shopping tool for common medical procedures

The Maryland Health Care Commission, the state’s independent regulatory agency, is unveiling a website on which people scheduling a hip replacement, knee replacement, hysterectomy or vaginal delivery can see price differences among different providers for the same procedure. The site is launching amid rising health-care costs and as some consumers turn to insurance plans with high deductibles. The state site is meant to give consumers a tool to compare prices and quality on four common medical procedures at hospitals around the state that patients otherwise would have difficulty finding on their own. By showing ranges of costs — hip replacement surgery in Maryland, for example, can differ by as much as $20,000, the site data shows — state officials said they hope to prompt discussions by patients about doctors’ recommendations about where to schedule a surgery and perhaps create incentives to adjust prices. “We’re undergoing major changes in the health-care sector in the economy right now, and there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Maryland Health Care Commissioner Robert Moffit said. “We think it’s important for Americans to understand from a reliable source what it is they are buying and how much it really costs.”
But an expert in health-care costs was skeptical that prices posted online could drive down costs. Kevin Volpp, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, said that on a big-ticket item like a joint replacement even patients with high deductibles probably would meet that threshold and with insurance coverage would not face major added costs out of their own pockets. Volpp said that because many patients would not be hit in their wallets, they may come to regard price as a measure of quality and seek the more expensive options. “As a general point, I would agree that it’s good for people to know more than less about the price and quality of different options,” Volpp said. But “I think it’s very likely that it’s going to drive people to higher-priced providers. People think higher prices equate with better quality. Patients have no reason to not think that’s true.” Read more at the Washington Post.

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