by Katherine Restrepo
Director of Health Care Policy, John Locke Foundation
It’s now been one month since Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina went public with its health care cost estimator tool. Regardless of whether you have a BCBS card, anyone can now compare average costs for more than 1,200 procedures in just about any zip code across the state. According to the Charlotte Observer, it’s attracted 8,000 unique visitors and counting along with some national attention.
As noted on the website, there are a few disclaimers to mention. Prices may vary depending on location, complexity of the procedure, patient health status, or whether the cost of anesthesia, drugs, and medical supplies are built into the bundled charges.
And of course, price alone isn’t necessarily the deciding factor when getting an x-ray or going under the knife. Quality metrics and physician credentials need to be considered, too. But it’s pretty clear that patients can access outpatient medical care at a fraction of the cost in stand-alone settings compared to larger non-profit health systems that pass on hefty facility fees or artificially raise prices to cross subsidize the losses accrued from indigent care. The chart below compares average charges for a few treatments in the greater Raleigh area: