Kaiser Health News profiles Medibid, a company started by benefits consultant Ralph Weber, which bills itself as a “free market alternative to Obamacare.” By allowing patients to accept online bids for non-emergency procedures from doctors all across the country, Medibid offers a direct, transparent comparison of health care prices in the manner of a Kayak or Travelocity. Here’s more about how it works:
Weber said that about 120,000 consumers—Medibid calls them “seekers”—have used the service. Many are uninsured, holders of high-deductible plans or enrollees in faith-based plans, which have grown as a conservative alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Seekers are charged $25 for each request or about $60 for an unlimited number of requests per year.Roughly 6,000 doctors or surgery centers and a handful of hospitals, most seeking patients from abroad, have registered as “bidders”; physicians pay a fee ranging from $50 to bid on one request to $250 to bid on many. Once a bid is accepted, Medibid bows out, and patients work out arrangements with the doctor. Many bids are a package deal, covering the facility fee, the surgeon’s charge and anesthesia services. Patients pay the bidder in full, upfront and in cash or by credit card.
Critics of Medibid worry that the system won’t take sufficient measurements of quality to prevent patients from getting stuck with bad doctors. These concerns are valid, and there’s no reason to think that future medical bidding sites won’t vet doctors more thoroughly and provide patients with more information. But this is what consumer choice entails: If you want a system that’s more responsive to patients’ own preferences, and thus both more competitive and cheaper, you must be willing to let patients make these decisions themselves. The only remaining question is how—or whether—the risks can be minimized.
The chances are good that future innovators will find an answer. For now, at the very least, Medibid is giving patients something entirely missing from the health care system: maximum leverage and negotiating power.