Consumer Reports –

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Patients looking to avoid surprise medical bills should research costs online; compare prices, whether they are getting care in or out of their insurance network; and try to negotiate with doctors if they receive an unexpected out-of-network bill. Those are tips from Consumer Reports, the magazine that buys, tests and reviews such products as mobile phones and minivans.


An article scheduled to appear in the magazine’s July issue will examine health care cost variation and advise readers to comparison shop whenever possible.


The article is a reflection of a movement that supporters of health care cost transparency say is under way but still in its infancy.


Health insurers, consumer advocates and economists are among those who want patients to recognize cost variation in health care, find out what care should cost and comparison shop. For now, they say, that’s a challenge. Many consumers just aren’t motivated to research costs, but even those who are have trouble finding reliable price lists.


In many cases, price information is either hidden or dependent on the insurance plan in which the patient is enrolled, said Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor.


“More people are switching to plans that have quite a lot of cost-sharing,” she said. “They are being told, ‘This is for your own good, because you need more skin in the game,’ but we’ve heard from consumers who did their best that it’s just incredibly hard to find out the costs of care.”


The article introduces readers to two searchable databases that offer some cost estimates customized by the user’s ZIP code: FAIR Health, which was created under a settlement between insurers and the New York state attorney general’s office, and Healthcare Blue Book, a free search site that offers cost benchmarks for health care.

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