The Rising Price Of Health Care: How Are People Dealing With The Expense?

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to speak as a patient about “consumers and cost information” while being videotaped for use in the annual meeting of the Aligning Forces for Quality initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

RWJF Video - This Costs How Much?

I admire the aims of this initiative – “to lift the overall quality of health care in targeted communities, reduce racial and ethnic disparities and provide models for national reform” – and I think it has taught us some valuable lessons about what it takes to make even slight course corrections in the trajectory of the huge aircraft carrier that is health care.

Plus, I have listened to hundreds of people talk about their experiences with the rising price of health care: who thinks about it when and why, what individuals do to cut back on the expense, where they have been successful and where not. I’ve heard lots of stories, most of them involving considerable frustration. And I now find myself frequently trying to dig up information about the price of various tests to monitor for a recurrence of my own previous cancers.

Many of us are worried about the price of our health care, from how much we pay for our health plan to how much we are charged for a flu vaccine. The combination of the bad economy and the big increases in the amount we pay in insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles and for direct services has caught our attention.  And as the number of uninsured and underinsured people facing sizable out-of-pocket expenses grows, more of us find ourselves looking for price information to help decide whether we can afford to consult our doctor or pay for this test or that treatment.  Or, if we must have the test or treatment, where we can find lower-priced options.

So, I happily agreed to talk to the video camera.  And talk I did.  I answered a series of probing questions over the course of about 90 minutes about my experiences and what I have heard from others about trying to find out and make use of price information.

You can see the sweetened, condensed version of that interview here, where I am joined by Steven Weinberger of the American College of Physicians and Ginny Proestakes of GE, each talking about their views on price transparency. Bear with the long introduction – it raises some provocative questions.

The interview also prompted me to write about what the high price of health care looks like from my own individual perspective – here it is, in case you missed it.