Minnesota Insurers Roll out Price-Shopping Site

At one Minnesota hospital, a colonscopy costs insurance companies $402, while at another it’s $1,354. This is just one factoid you can find at MNHealthScores.org, which is a project of the non-profit group Minnesota Community Measurement. Data on 80 to 85 percent of the state’s primary care doctors is available, though that of specialists is not.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who has lately been criticizing Democratic proposals in Congress, praised the site. He “said the transparency provided by the site should hold down health costs and improve quality of care. In addition to informing consumers, he said, it should motivate clinics to compare prices and make theirs more competitive.” Further, Pawlenty “eagerly pointed out that it was created without any government control or money.”

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There are limits to such a site, of course. First, the numbers are the average rate that insurance companies pay, not what individuals pay. Second, since most people think of each marginal unit of health care service as “free” (assuming the deductible has been met and co-insurance requirements are minimal), there’s little incentive for patients to give a rip about costs.

Indeed, read the comments attached to the Star-Tribune article, and you’ll find a way of thinking that equates high prices with high quality. Again, if someone else is going to pay the bill (or seen to be paying the bill), whether that someone is an employer or the taxpayers at large, and medical billing continue to be opaque, interest in the site will be limited.

(Cross-posted from State House Call.)