One the nation’s largest insurers is getting into the price transparency game. For the first time ever, Blue Cross Blue Shield has made price data available, making public what providers charge the company for different kinds of surgeries. The release confirms that insane price variations plague US health care, via WaPo:
The report, which analyzed three years of BCBSA companies’ claims data in 64 markets, found that the average price for a knee replacement surgery is $31,124. But that price, which doesn’t reflect what the patient actually pays, can vary greatly within the same city. In Dallas, for example, a knee surgery will run anywhere between $16,772 and $61,585 depending on the hospital. That’s a 267 percent price variation, the largest within any of the markets that BCBSA analyzed […]Wednesday’s report was the first in a series that BCBSA plans to release as it tries to nudge customers into choosing higher-quality, lower-cost providers.
It’s one thing, as USA Today points out, for costs to vary nationwide, with different cost-of-living standards. But it’s quite another for them to vary within the same city. Still these results effectively confirm what we already knew from the Medicare data that was released nearly two years ago. This matters not because we learned anything all that new—though this data more accurately reflects what insurers pay than the Medicare data did—but because it shows that we are making progress nationally on transparency. We now have insurance companies invested in releasing accurate data about prices, and prodding their customers to shop around more when looking for treatment. That’s extremely good news, and a much-needed bright spot in the otherwise gloomy health care landscape.