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Start-up to introduce health care comparison shopping

The New York Times reports today on a startup, Castlight Health, that will soon offer a price comparison tool for medical procedures. Alan M. Garber, MD, PhD, comments in the piece:

The notion "seems ridiculously simple and obvious, and in any other industry, you would say, 'Duh, we already have that.' But in health care, it's revolutionary," said Alan M. Garber, a professor of medicine and the director of the center for health policy at Stanford, as well as an investor in Castlight.

If the cost of medical attention and procedures were clear to consumers and less heavily subsidized by insurance plans, analysts say, individuals would suddenly have incentive to pursue good value, and ballooning health care costs would flatten out:

Several studies and pilot projects suggest that the more patients know about prices, the more money they save. A study published last month by Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, found that people on high-deductible health plans, with more exposure to the prices of doctor visits, spent less. Indiana adopted high-deductible health plans, and the average expense in 2009 for patients on one of these plans was $6,393, compared with $8,570 for patients on a more traditional health maintenance organization plan.

Of course, the cheaper option is not always the best option when it comes to health care; Castlight is working on a plan to add quality measurements to its price information.

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