New Hampshire's price transparency website, NH HealthCost, has received praise for providing the state's residents with useful and consumer-friendly information on the possible costs of healthcare procedures.
Now the New Hampshire Insurance Department is adding even more tools and functionality to the site, including additional procedures, quality data and a redesigned interface. The department also hopes to bring more people to the site through a public awareness push.
“We changed the entire look and feel of the website,” said Maureen Mustard, director of healthcare analytics for the New Hampshire Insurance Department. “We wanted to show things that are very shoppable to people.”
Last year, the small New England state was the only one to receive an A grade from an annual report card on state transparency efforts released by the Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute.
New Hampshire uses its all-payer claims database to provide consumers with the actual cost they might expect to pay for healthcare services, based on their insurance plan or a provider's typical uninsured discounts. The website, which went live in 2007, uses a bundled approach that aims to reflect the total cost of a procedure, from physician to facility fees.
Consumers may be the target audience for the site, but insurers and providers have followed it closely.
Already, there are signs that insurers in the state have been redesigning their benefit plans to encourage members to shop around. Providers, in turn, have been adjusting their prices to be more competitive, and opening lower-cost care settings, such as ambulatory surgical centers.
“We know that some providers are lowering their prices and they're quite eager to make that known,” Mustard said.
The latest upgrade to the price transparency website expands the number of searchable procedures, which now include dental, chiropractic and physical-therapy services as well as sleep studies and prescription information. Quality information comes from the CMS and the Joint Commission.
The site also has been optimized so it can be viewed on a smartphone or tablet.
Prices are updated quarterly, but one limitation of the site is a 15-month lag-time between when claims are filed and when the insurance department receives that data. The quality ratings, for instance, are from 2013, and the state plans to update them as soon as new information is available, Mustard said. Those consumers who are most price-sensitive are encouraged to contact their providers for the latest information, she added.
The insurance department is also trying to increase awareness of the site, which averages 4,500 visitors per month, about 70% of which are new.
It has tapped public relations firm Louis Karno & Co. to create an outreach campaign that will target chambers of commerce, social-service providers and physicians. The goal is to target those who can influence consumers and let them know that they can and should compare prices for healthcare costs.
“What we hope to do is that by improving price transparency … that's going to influence the marketplace and hopefully lower the cost of care,” Mustard said.
The move coincides with research out this week from the Health Care Cost Institute that finds patients who sought "shoppable” healthcare—care that can be scheduled in a market with some competition—had out-of-pocket costs that accounted for 7% of the nation's spending for privately insured patients.
The study showed that patients are limited as consumers to compel hospitals, clinics and laboratories to compete more aggressively on price, a strategy some policymakers believe could help reduce unnecessary spending.
Households spent $37.7 billion out-of-pocket in 2011 for medical care that could have been purchased after comparison shopping. Yet, analysis found that even that sliver of spending could not be completely altered by attentive consumers.