In some cases, these companies do the shopping for you—you just have to define the parameters, sort of like establishing your preferences and letting eBay do the searching legwork for you.
Recently, I spoke with Howard McLure, who is former president of CVS/Caremark, about his new gig, which, you guessed it, involves getting consumers to shop for healthcare—sort of.
McLure is transitioning to become chairman and CEO of change:healthcare, a company that uses employers' claims data to help find better deals for employees on the healthcare that they have to pay for out of their own pockets. His isn't the only company that does this, but the idea sounds promising.
It works by comparing de-identified claims data across the client company to help locate better prices for primary care, dentistry, prescription drugs and a variety of other small-dollar healthcare expenses that can add up to big bucks over the course of a year. The larger the company, the better the data, and change:healthcare can even combine two or more companies' claims data as long as they share the same insurance network.
Let's say you pay $85 each time you visit the dentist for a cleaning. Maybe one of your colleagues—probably someone you don't even know—pays $60. McClure's company's database can let you know about the cheaper price if it fits within your chosen set of parameters—distance from you, quality, services offered--and lets you know about the option to save. You don't have to do it, but at least you have the information.
McClure acknowledges the bigger the employee pool, the more likely it is that his company can find more ways to save for beneficiaries. Right now, they're finding ways to save for about half the population for a given company.