Shopping for Healthcare Needs to Start Small

Philip Betbeze, June 10, 2011

Who's going to shop for healthcare in an emergency? How would you even begin to shop for complex procedures like heart surgery? Who's going to look for a discount on cancer treatment? Anything like that is probably going to meet and easily exceed your deductible anyway. And besides, saving a few bucks on treatment is probably the last thing on the minds of people suffering from these maladies—their family members, too.

Those are all valid concerns and I don't have a good rebuttal. But just because people still can't—or are unwilling—to shop for high-end treatment doesn't mean the idea doesn't have merit.  I've heard this argument for years, especially back when the federally endorsed method of reducing healthcare costs revolved around consumers shopping for care using their health savings accounts.

But what if shopping for healthcare focused on the little things we all need to access, such as primary care, prescription drugs, or other, less life-threatening and immediate procedures? That's where a little consumer involvement could actually work to improve quality and bring down costs.

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What's changed in the past several years since the Bush administration touted HSAs is that most of us are paying more out of our pockets for our healthcare—a lot more—than we were at that time. Companies, including my own, are instituting high deductibles and high coinsurance requirements for their employees who have insurance. I get it.

But we're largely at the mercy of those who provide the care, and the fact that we're all paying a lot more for healthcare out of our own pockets hasn't translated to lower costs. But that may be changing as a host of companies are seeking to provide the kind of information that makes it easier to save money on routine care.

Philip Betbeze

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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