Earlier this year, a new online health care cost checking tool became available: Guroo.com
It joins a couple other online tools that are meant to increase price transparency and help patients figure out how much a test or procedure will cost before getting the bill.
But do Guroo or the others really help?
If you’re uninsured or have a really high deductible, it’s nice to have at least a ballpark idea of what you will be spending if you need some kind of medical care. But, as Kaiser Health News puts it:
Buying health care in America is like shopping blindfolded at Macy’s and getting the bill months after you leave the store…
And although Guroo and the others offer some interesting insight into what care should cost, or what it costs on average, it remains incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to know for sure. If you’re working within a tight household budget, even a difference of a hundred dollars, let alone a thousand or more, can be a hardship on you and your family.
Related post: Surprise medical bills
Guroo uses payment information from several large insurance companies, and organizes its searches into “care bundles” of services. For example, if you search under “knee arthroscopy with ACL surgery,” you will see average costs including a consult with an orthopedist, the surgery itself, follow-up visits and physical therapy.
(Emergency-type services, such as for a heart attack or appendectomy, aren’t available because obviously no one is shopping around for the best price for those particular bundles.)
The costs are the average local costs based on your zip code and compared to the national average. Because Guroo uses payment information from the insurance companies, the costs reflect what is actually paid, not what is typically charged. That difference can be substantial.
This knowledge would be most helpful to someone who is uninsured and wants to negotiate a price with a care provider.
I’m less sure how helpful it is to the average insured consumer, however. The prices you see on Guroo will not be specific to your providers and insurance company.
Still, I like that Guroo, along with costs, also provides additional educational information, such as details about the test or procedure, questions to ask your doctor, and how to prepare for the test or procedure.
I’m a great believer in empowering patients with more information to enable them to ask more and better questions! And asking your doctor about the cost of a proposed test or treatment is always a good idea.
Healthcare Bluebook differs a bit from Guroo. It’s been around a lot longer, since 2007. Its search tool also offers average local prices for a lot more tests and procedures, but it does not bundle the costs.
Links to Choosing Wisely and Consumer Reports provide more information about each treatment, including how useful or necessary it is. I love Choosing Wisely! Read more about it in my post Save money by Choosing Wisely.
Another link on Healthcare Bluebook advises you how to negotiate “fair” prices with doctors and hospitals. Again, it’s most helpful for the uninsured or perhaps those with super high deductibles.
FairHealth is my least favorite as it’s the least user friendly. To look up the cost of a test or procedure you need to know the procedure or CPT code. Who knows those?! You can get a list if you type in “mammogram,” for example, but it gives you half a dozen different codes. How do you know which one you need? Or you can call the mammogram provider and ask for a code, but they will just transfer you to a coder in the business office who will not want to give you a code before the procedure is actually performed.
It’s a lot of time and frustration for not much information.
Like the other two websites, however, FairHealth does offer consumer information about health care pricing and transparency, which makes it a worthwhile resource.
Although each site has interesting information for consumers (and Guroo is my favorite), none of them has the ability to completely remove our blindfolds.