While hospital and health system marketers have traditionally been charged chiefly with touting the qualities of their healthcare services, the exposure of pricing data adds a level of complexity to the marketing mix.
Price comparison has been a top priority for consumers since the dawn of commerce, but it's something I was never particularly focused on until I started receiving daily emails from social spending sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.
Transparency has made me realize that for some things, such as haircuts and shoes, I'm willing to pay a premium in order to get exactly what I want when I want it. For other purchases, such as manicures and cupcakes, I'm willing to wait around for a deal to pop up. At the end of the day a cupcake is a cupcake.
I couldn't help but draw a comparison between consumer social spending and the hubbub revolving around the mandated hospital price transparency that was enacted earlier this month. Suddenly, instead of merely having to produce the best cupcake, er, healthcare, hospitals will have to compete based on price, too.
Price comparison panic
On May 8 the federal government for the first time released the "rate card" detailing the full price hospitals charge before insurance companies apply discounts for more than 100 of the most common services and procedures.
The "sticker price" data comes from claims filed with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in 2011, including 163,065 separate charges from 3,337 hospitals in 306 metropolitan areas.