Mass. insurers asked to improve health cost websites

The largest health insurers in Massachusetts need to improve their price transparency online, according to an evaluation by Health Care for All.

The three insurers — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan — are meeting the state requirement of providing consumers with cost estimates, but the figures are not easy to find online, according to The Boston Globe.

The 2012 Massachusetts state law was proposed to control healthcare costs and allow consumers to search for the best value. But on Blue Cross' website, there was only an estimate for the total cost of a service and no mention of how much the consumer would have to pay, according to the evaluation. Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts did not provide information about the cost of inpatient procedures.

Participants in Health Care for All's study searched for cost information on 20 procedures and graded each plan on the criterion. Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts got a C and Blue Cross got a C-.

Less than a month ago, the Pioneer Institute also found fault with Massachusetts hospitals' ability to meet the law's requirements. The Pioneer Institute's analysis surveyed 22 hospitals, almost all of which were unable to answer cost questions within two business days as required.

"There was an awful lot of room for improvement," said Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care for All. "Not one [website] was intuitive."

But according to Alan P. Sager, director of the Health Reform Program at the Boston University School of Public Health, giving consumers price information won't reduce costs because people are unlikely to make price-based decisions about healthcare.

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