Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 2, 2013

New online tool lifts the curtain on health care costs

TRAVERSE CITY— It’s easy to compare the cost of bananas or a bag of potato chips.

But it’s much tougher going when trying to compare, say, the cost of a colonoscopy or a sleep study.

Now Priority Health customers can easily compare how much a medical facility, surgical center or hospital charges for a given procedure, thanks to the Healthcare Blue Book the insurance company rolled out in August.

In Traverse City, a colonoscopy costs range from $449 to $2,176. The cost difference for a sleep study is even wider — from $827 to $3,398, according to the Blue Book.

“When you see the price variations, it’s shocking,” said Marti Lolli, Priority Health’s director of health care reform. “We shop for everything else. This brings the shopping mentality into the health care arena where you can pick by price and quality.”

The Blue Book compares quality ratings as well, and ranks the facilities according to what it calls a “fair price.”

About 80 percent of facilities in northern Michigan opted to provide their cost information, including Munson Medical Center, said Priority Health Communications Manager Amy Miller.

The Healthcare Blue Book compares more than 200 health care services in Michigan that are “shoppable” — procedures that people can schedule well in advance.

“We’ve always felt strongly about transparency and empowering members to manage their own health care costs,” Miller said. “This is just another step because more and more people have to pay health care costs out of their own pocket.”

The transparency initiative has evolved for a number of years and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan developed its own tools and database rather than partnering with an outside group, said Jeff Connolly, president of West Michigan operations and managed care.

“We believe we have to be very methodical about the steps we take and focus on the total costs and total care of the patient as opposed to limited snippets,” he said.

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