If you’re like a lot of shoppers, you comb through circulars to compare grocery store prices. You check prices online to make sure you buy your product at the right price. You know many stores offer the exact same products at varying prices, so smart shopping can add up to big savings.
Now, patients can compare prices online to shop for their healthcare services: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana have launched SmartShopperTM, which lets the insurer’s customers see and compare cost ranges for procedures in more than 300 categories.
Powered by information from Blue Cross’ claims data, the largest collection of private healthcare data in the state, SmartShopper shows Blue Cross customers the price differences for various procedures, based on facility and ZIP code.
“Blue Cross is taking advantage of new technology and sophisticated tools to analyze our own claims data and give customers more information about how different healthcare providers compare on costs,” said Somesh Nigam, Blue Cross senior vice president and chief data and analytics officer. “We’ve worked with Vitals, a healthcare transparency company, over the past two years to bring their SmartShopper tool to our members. We want to be a source our customers can trust to navigate the healthcare system.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana customers who are ages 18 or older, with the exception of those covered through the Federal Employee Program, can access Smart Shopper. The tool is also available to Blue Cross network providers.
Customers will create an online account on their first visit to the site, which they will log in with each time they use SmartShopper. After logging into the site, with the click of a mouse, customers can search for different medical procedures and their costs.
For example, if a customer was told to have a colonoscopy, he or she could use SmartShopper to see the different hospitals and clinics that are in network nearby and do this screening, and how much each charges.
Customers using SmartShopper will notice that there is often a wide range in costs for the same medical service – for instance, costs for MRIs and surgical procedures can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
“As healthcare costs keep rising, our members want greater transparency so they better understand the price differences for various procedures,” said Brian Keller, Blue Cross senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “Our customers on high-deductible plans, on which they are paying a higher portion of costs out of pocket, could really benefit from SmartShopper. If they take some time to shop and compare costs of medical services and procedures, they can save a lot of money.”
As with any medical service, customers should follow their doctors’ clinical guidance when deciding what types of care they need.
Financial incentives for smart shopping will be piloted for groups in a future phase of SmartShopper. Blue Cross will continue adding more information to Smart Shopper to give customers easy access to details on healthcare pricing.
SmartShopper is operated through a partnership with Vitals, an independent company that provides transparency around cost and access information−paired with member engagement, actionable data and predictive analytics−to empower people to make more informed and effective health care decisions.