Blues plans choose online cost comparison tool

Plan members will be able to see a cost range for a given procedure at nearby hospitals, including physician and facility charges.

By Emily Berry — Posted Aug. 21, 2009

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BlueCross BlueShield-affiliated plans nationwide have agreed to offer an online cost-comparison tool that will be standard to all Blues plans.

WellPoint's Care Comparison tool, first piloted in Dayton, Ohio, in 2006, will eventually be available to an estimated 48 million members nationwide, said George Lenko, program director of national network initiatives for WellPoint.

Not every plan has launched the tool yet, but WellPoint, the country's largest health plan by membership, won a competitive bid to offer the "Blues Standard" cost transparency tool for every plan in the BlueCross BlueShield Assn., Lenko said.

BlueCross BlueShield of Florida and Health Care Service Corp., the parent company of Blues plans in Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, agreed in separate deals announced in July that they would also offer cost information to their members through Care Comparison.

HCSC plans and BlueCross BlueShield of Florida plan to begin offering members access to Care Comparison later this year.

Care Comparison allows a member to search by geography and find estimated costs for 35 procedures, both inpatient and outpatient.

Information on some procedures also includes complication rates, safety records, length-of-stay and mortality rates for each facility. The cost estimate is presented as a range, and is the sum of the estimated facility charges and physician fees from beginning to end of the hospital stay, Lenko said. Each facility has the chance to review its own listings before they go online, he said.

Doctors in Ohio want the health plans' emphasis on disclosure to go both ways, said Jason Koma, spokesman for the Ohio State Medical Assn.

"We would like to see that transparency be across the board -- that insurance companies be more transparent in their dealings on their side of things," he said.

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