Cost Variation

RECENT POSTS

Shining Light on the Cost of Diabetes Test Strips

(Victor/via Flickr)

Test strips — the white strip in the photo above — vary dramatically both in cash price and in insurance coverage. (Victor/via Flickr)

Since early this summer, KQED and our partners, KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com, have been crowdsourcing the costs of common health care procedures.

‘Every time someone moves to a new insurer, the pricing will be very different on test strips. Nobody is going to send you a breakdown.’

If you’re one of the 29 million people in America who has diabetes, we’re turning now to you. We know that many people with diabetes must check their blood sugar, also called glucose, level several times a day.

For those of you who don’t have diabetes, the reason for frequent checking is because in diabetes, sugar can build up in the bloodstream because the body is not able to process it. That can be dangerous. Depending on the severity of the disease, many people with diabetes must check their glucose level several times a day to make sure it is neither dangerously high nor dangerously low.

To check their blood sugar, people with diabetes have a glucose meter. Each time they test their blood, a test strip is inserted into the meter. Then they use a special needle to prick a finger and place a drop of blood on a test strip. The meter displays the result. Continue reading

IUD Costs Vary by $600 in Bay Area; What Did You Pay?

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control, but are relatively underutilized, at least in the United States. (Spike Mafford/Getty Images)

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control. (Spike Mafford/Getty Images)

If you’re one of the 62 million American women of childbearing age, we have a question for you: How much do you pay for birth control? Did you know you might be able to save perhaps hundreds of dollars on your contraceptive method, just by asking? Let’s back up. We’ve reached the halfway point in our PriceCheck project.

We’re shining a light on notoriously opaque and highly variable health care costs. We’re asking you, the members of our community, to share what you’ve paid for common procedures including mammograms and back MRIs. We found that both screening mammograms and back MRIs could vary in price ten-fold. Now we’re moving on to a new health care service: IUDs.

We’re asking you to share what you paid for your IUD. The two most widely-used IUDs are Mirena (a hormonally-based IUD) and ParaGard (a non-hormonal product). Both are more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Our PriceCheck partner, ClearHealthCosts.com, has surveyed health care providers and lists cash prices for these IUDs in our PriceCheck database. Continue reading

PriceCheck: How Much Does A Back MRI Cost?

Back MRI costs vary widely, even within the same city. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

Back MRI costs vary widely, even within the same city. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

In June, KQED launched PriceCheck, our crowdsourcing project on health costs. We’re working in collaboration with KPCC, public media in Los Angeles, and ClearHealthCosts.com, a New York City startup looking at health costs.

Just in San Francisco, back MRIs range in price from $575 to $6,221.

We’re asking you, the members of our community, to share what you’ve paid. We started with mammograms. We have both cash or “self-pay” prices in our database. We also have crowdsourced prices. The range we’ve found, even in close geographic areas, is startling.

Here’s one example: ClearHealthCosts collected self-pay prices at various centers in the Bay Area and Southern California. If a woman walks into the NorCal Imaging Center in Walnut Creek, a screening mammogram will cost her $125, if she pays out of pocket. Continue reading

‘ClearHealthCosts’ Sorts Out Bewildering Health Prices

(Image: ClearHealthCost)

If you’re uninsured or have a high deductible health plan, you’ve likely experienced the frustration of trying to figure out how much a specific medical procedure might cost you.

Start up ClearHealthCosts is trying to help. Former New York Times journalist Jeanne Pinder hatched the idea on the simple premise that “somehow you could bring transparency to the health care marketplace,” as she told me today in an interview.

The site launched with price comparisons across 30 common procedures in New York and then (lucky for those in the Bay Area) added San Francisco. Let’s pick a simple lower back MRI without dye. I searched within 25 miles of San Francisco, and the range was $500 on the low end to $1945 on the high end. If you’re paying out of pocket, that’s a whopping $1,445 savings to you.

In this case, the main driver of the big cost difference appeared to be whether the MRI would be done in a hospital (more overhead) or a clinic. Continue reading