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New Website Puts Hospital Prices at Your Fingertips
The site, Billy, promises to “eat your medical bills” and shows how hospital prices may vary by 15-fold for the same services in your community.
Our health care system’s refusal to provide prices up front has been one of its most infuriating characteristics.
But things are changing.
Today marks the launch of Billy, a consumer website that promises to “eat your medical bills” by putting hospital prices at your fingertips. Now, nationwide, you can look up prices by CPT or DRG code and see the cost of services at hospitals near you.
The site is great for anyone. But you’ll especially want to pay attention if you’re uninsured, on a high deductible health plan, or part of a health sharing plan. The easy price look-up tool can help you shop before you undergo care to make sure you get a fair price. It can also be useful after you’ve received care, to ensure you’re being billed fairly.
Let me state something obvious: this is something anyone can do, but it’s not novice-level stuff. The starter course is my book, Never Pay the First Bill, or my health literacy videos, The Never Pay Pathway. Investing in your health care literacy is investing in your financial literacy. My book and videos will help you understand how to use Billy (and other sites I recommend) effectively so you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on health care.
Let’s take Billy for a test run. I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Let’s say I needed a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis without contrast. That’s CPT code 74176. Plug that into Billy with my zip code and you see a map of the eye-popping price variation. Cash prices range more than 15-fold – from under $200 at one facility to more than $3,000 at another. Which would you rather pay?
The cash price for the CT scan at Dallas Medical Center is $178. Click through and you can see the prices for various insurance plans. Most are higher than the cash price - one of the many absurdities of health care pricing that drive up costs for working Americans. The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas price, for instance, is $1,379.
(Be sure to also check independent imaging centers, which are typically cheaper than hospitals. Those prices aren’t available on Billy yet, but you can call those centers to get them. Also, check out Green Imaging, which contracts with independent imaging centers.)
If all this price variation sounds nonsensical, that’s because it is. I explain this in detail in Never Pay the First Bill. The short version is that our health care system has been using hidden pricing to make people overpay. And in many cases insured patients are paying more than cash-paying patients. Think your big insurance company is looking out for you by getting you the best prices? Think again.
Let’s check out another example. Let’s say you live near my former home, in Northern New Jersey. The cash prices for a level 3 emergency room visit, CPT code 99283, range by more than 10-fold.
The cash price is $210 at Hackensack UMC Mountainside (the average insured price there is $787). It’s $2,110 at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (where the average insured price is $1,386).
Billy gives you three free searches a month and then charges $9.99 a month for unlimited searches. I think that’s fair pricing given the amount someone can save and the fact that you can cancel anytime. You could just pay the 10 bucks anytime you need it and it could save you hundreds or more. Billy’s founders say they are charging the fees so they can remain independent. I’m proud to say that I became Billy’s first customer.
The source of the data that’s posted on Billy is the hospitals themselves, which are complying with the Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule. The rule required hospitals to post their cash prices and their discounted prices for each insurance plan for the services they provide.
The Price Transparency rule is allowing visionary data analysts to build pricing tools for the public. Turquoise Health is another helpful site. It’s free, but doesn’t make it as easy to see the insured rates as the Billy site. I also recommend fairhealthconsumer.org, which provides the average amount insurance companies are paying each locality. I also love healthcarebluebook.com, which gives you the estimated “fair price” according to payments by self-funded plans. For lab tests, check out Jason Health. Other promising sites and innovative models are also coming online. Huge applause to all these startups who are working to make health care more affordable and accessible!
Leon Wisniewski, the founder of Health Cost Labs, is the data hound behind Billy and one of its co-founders. I met Leon in early 2021 and featured him in Never Pay the First Bill. He’s been doing the grind of downloading and scraping and cleaning hospital pricing data for years to make it available to the public.
Leon said Billy’s target audience is patients who are motivated to check prices: the uninsured, people in health sharing plans, or anyone on a high deductible health plan. This is the first iteration of Billy, he said, and additional data will be added for clinics and e-pharmacies. Facilities that want to list their prices on Billy can email them at email@example.com.
Cody Coonradt, Billy’s CEO and another co-founder, said the team’s goal is to go outside the existing health care payment system to equip patients. “We want to normalize pricing,” he said. “We want to give people tools to advocate for themselves. When data is transparent it leads to better conversations and it will get us to a place where we can have health care that is accessible and affordable.”
I see two clear uses for consumers to use this data to save massive amounts of money.
Shopping. Get the billing code for whatever service you need and plug it into Billy. It’ll give you the range of hospital prices in your community. Hospitals are the most expensive places to get health care. So perhaps you can use the hospital pricing as a benchmark and go to a surgical center or clinic or urgent care. But if you need to go to a hospital, see if you can go to the one with the best price. Then, get a Good Faith Estimate to confirm the price before you get treated.
Check a medical bill to see if it’s priced fairly. Health care prices are often unreasonable. If you get an itemized bill with the billing codes you can check Billy or other sources to see if what they’re asking you to pay is fair. If it’s not fair, you can contest it. I cover this in detail in my book and videos, but know this: You could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per health care encounter by checking the prices.
Ultimately, we need self-funded health plans to get on board. Benefit advisors and employers need to integrate the pricing data into their benefits design. That’s happening in some cases, but it needs to be mainstream.
Here’s the big vision: Let’s shun the hospitals and other providers who are charging us more than they should. And let’s reward those who are being fair with us by giving them our business. That’s how a free market works. Let’s do it!
Would you pay $350 for this $81 boot? Your doctor might want you to.
My brother-in-law just texted me with a ripe one. The orthopedic group that treated his wife, who is my wife’s sister, just billed them $350 for the orthopedic boot pictured above.
He found it on Amazon for $81.03.
That’s a markup of more than 400%.
He’s gonna fight it.
As he should.
As we all should!
I’m looking for bold employers to equip their employees with my Never Pay Pathway health literacy videos. They’re based on my book, Never Pay the First Bill, and the knowledge will transform the way your employees engage the health care system.
The videos are an ENGAGING resource that will save money for your employees, their families - and your health plan. Let’s stop overpaying for our health care, shall we? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.