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Medical Cost-Savings App Available for Free

Healthcare Bluebook seeks to empower patients to shop around, negotiate ‘fair prices’

A Nashville-based company that specializes in researching and comparing medical-care costs and rating quality-of-care outcomes is offering its services for free to Middle Tennessee residents.

“Health care is the one industry in which people make purchases without knowing the cost in advance,” says Jeffrey Rice, CEO of the price-transparency company called Healthcare Bluebook.

Often, even within the same general area, there are “huge differences between hospitals and other health care facilities for the exact same procedure,” said Rice, who is himself a doctor.

That needn’t be the case, he said. Healthcare Bluebook’s mission and function is to advance, in the company website’s words, a “simple, yet powerful idea: create fairness in the healthcare marketplace.”

American consumers obviously know how to shop for good deals on all manner of goods and services, yet when it comes to making health-care choices and obtaining medicines, they often just take what’s given to them without shopping around, said Rice, an editorial board for the American Journal of Medical Quality.

Healthcare Bluebook’s app works by crunching pricing information and service-quality assessments from a wide set of providers in regions around the country.

“We know that most hospitals perform most services, but they are not equally good at everything,” Rice wrote in an op-ed column for The Tennessean back in April. “Bluebook offers consumers information about quality of care that allows them to see hospital outcomes for the specific service they need. We combine this health-care quality information with cost information so that they can get the quality care they need at a price they can afford.”

Cost and quality-rating information is presented to the app’s users in easily understood color-coded grading and ranking schedules, giving patients and their families the ability to locate high-quality, lower-cost alternatives for medical treatment than what they might think are otherwise available.

Healthcare Bluebook also strengthens the patient-as-customer’s ability to successfully negotiate a “fair price” after the fact, if they feel overcharged, or when discussing payment arrangements with a care-provider’s billing department.

“We really like it, and a lot of people in the area really like it to help them get an objective price on medical procedures,” said Bob Gunter, CEO of Premier Diagnostic Imaging in Cookeville and Tennessee chapter president of the national Radiology Business Management Association.

If a medical services provider isn’t willing to negotiate a billing amount that’s in line with what Healthcare Bluebook has determined is the fair price for a procedure or service, “then you should probably go someplace else,” said Gunter.

A 2016 survey by the Kaiser Foundation, a national health policy analysis center, discovered that nearly 70 percent of patients sampled across the country reported substantial difficulty trying to find useful or binding estimates on prices for medical procedures ahead of time. And more than 65 percent who attempted to negotiate a bill-reduction with a care-provider afterward said their efforts failed.

Healthcare Bluebook helps patients deal with both issues, says the company’s marketing director, Greg Stielstra.

“This works for people who are insured as well as uninsured,” he said. “People mistakenly think the problem we must solve is getting everyone insurance so they can pay for overpriced health care. But what we ought to be doing is trying to solve the pricing of health care itself, which you can greatly reduce by making it more transparent.”

The lack of transparency in health-services pricing hasn’t just resulted in people paying more than they think they should. It also causes consumers to believe that market rates for health care services are higher than they actually are.

Health care need not be outlandishly overpriced, or prohibitively expensive, said Stielstra. To the contrary, Healthcare Bluebook shows that affordable options actually exist, and they’re usually not far away, he said.

Healthcare Bluebook has been available for free to Middle Tennessee residents since February. Stielstra said they typically market the premium app services to business owners, who in turn offer it as a free benefit to their employees.

Given that Nashville is “the health care capital of the nation,” said Stielstra, company officials want to see the app as widely available as possible here. They’ve determined that’s best achieved by offering it free to whoever wants it.

As a result, Stielstra hopes Nashville and the surrounding region will become “the most transparent in the nation in terms of price and quality.”

“Transparency is transformative,” he said.