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New State Database Helps Patients Figure Out Health Care Costs

Florey Institute
Creative Commons

Trying to figure out how much a medical procedure or treatment may cost can be time consuming and complicated, but Connecticut officials hope a new web tool may now make it easier for patients and their families.

The state Office of Health Strategy Tuesday launched a cost estimator tool on HealthscoreCT.com, a new website for health care quality and cost information. The estimator tool was designed to aid people in their medical decisions and give them a better idea of how health care pricing and coverage work.

“It’s going to help patients and their families better understand how the cost of services being offered by health care providers compares with other providers, and empower them to save their hard earned money,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said.

State officials worked with data analysts at UConn’s Analytics and Information Management Solutions group to collect and put together a database with information from the state’s All-Payer Claims Database, excluding data from Medicaid, Medicare and Medicare Advantage.

Search options and results are limited to non-emergency inpatient and outpatient services for about 50 different procedures and treatments. Users can look up a specific procedure, like a colonoscopy or spine MRI, and see the median amount paid out by health insurers to individual hospitals and providers for that medical service.

The median state price for a diagnostic colonoscopy in Connecticut is about $891, according to the database. But Rockville General Hospital in Vernon Rockville has one of the cheapest prices at $361 while Bristol Hospital reaches the top of the price range at about $2,077.

Vicki Veltri, OHS executive director, said the database can be helpful, but the actual amount people may pay for a medical service varies greatly depending on their insurance carrier and policy type.

“How important it is, that no matter what you’re looking at on here, that you check with your carrier and provider on treatment options and costs,” Veltri said. “This is not a substitute for those discussions.”

Veltri said the whole idea behind creating HealthscoreCT.com was to increase transparency on health care costs and quality — it comes at a time when state and national leaders look at ways to slow down rising health care costs and prescription drug prices, as well as strengthen consumer protection laws against things like surprise or unexpected medical bills.

Nearly half of U.S. working adults said they could not pay an unexpected $1,000 medical bill within 30 days, according to a 2018 Commonwealth Fund survey. A University of Chicago survey showed that unexpected medical charges and billing has affected more than half of adults.

“We’ve got to take a look at the larger system, and we’ve got to figure out ways that we can drive the rate of growth of health care costs down,” Veltri said. “That has to happen, it has to happen for individuals to survive in the state, it has to happen for businesses to locate and thrive in the state, so this is just one piece of a very large puzzle.”

Connecticut officials said they intend to add more types of procedures and treatments to the database over time. They also hope to one day create a system where people can get estimates for medical and health services tailored to their individual insurance carriers and plans.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.
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