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Health plan offers cost data from 4 more states

WellPoint's "Care Comparison" tool will give access to information to an additional 15 million Blues plan members.

By Emily Berry — Posted Jan. 6, 2009

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WellPoint has joined with four independent nonprofit Blue Cross Blue Shield plans to expand a cost-reporting program to Michigan, Minnesota, Washington state and Pennsylvania.

WellPoint launched its Care Comparison tool as a pilot program in 2006 with General Motors, and has since expanded it to several states.

The Web site allows members to look at the cost of 39 procedures at hospitals, surgery centers and radiology centers and compare them side by side, WellPoint spokeswoman Cheryl Leamon said.

The costs are facility-specific, not physician-specific, she said.

Under an agreement with Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, based in Pennsylvania, Premera Blue Cross, based in Washington state, and with the Blues plans in Minnesota and Michigan, those plans will give data to WellPoint, which will then allow members to access the Care Comparison tool online.

The costs are presented in a range and include services typically bundled together, not only the procedure itself, and reflect the plans' costs over the previous 12 months, according to a news release from WellPoint.

Together the four nonprofits that will now report their cost data to WellPoint represent nearly 14 million members. WellPoint has made or is on the verge of offering the Care Comparison tool to members in 10 of the 14 states where it operates, Leamon said.

Kevin Downey, spokesman for the Michigan Health & Hospital Assn., said the group supports the agreement between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and WellPoint. The hospital group launched its own cost comparison tool for patients in January 2008.

The Minnesota Hospital Assn. began offering price comparisons for its hospitals in September 2006, spokeswoman Jan Jennings said. The group wasn't familiar with WellPoint's agreement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, she said.

The Washington State Hospital Assn. has a similar tool on its Web site.

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