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May 30, 2007

SoCal Doctors Post Prices Of Procedures Online

Breaking with long-held medical tradition, a Southern California physicians group has become one of the first and largest health organizations in the nation to make prices for procedures easily available to the public.

HealthCare Partners put an itemized price list on its Web site last week, with little fanfare.

"It feels like the right thing to do," said Robert Margolis, a founding physician and chief executive of the medical group.

The Torrance-based company serves more than 500,000 patients, who can now learn without asking that a flu vaccine runs $15, a chest X-ray goes for $61, and a colonoscopy costs $424.

The page can be accessed easily by clicking on "fees for basic services."

The move was spurred in part by the growth of walk-in clinics at malls and Wal Marts that provide simple medical services like vaccines and ultrasounds and make no secret of their prices.

Doctors have at times thought the practice of publicizing prices was undignified and crassly commercial, and patients with insurance often haven't cared about particular prices beyond their co-payments and premiums.

But with employers increasingly shifting more costs to workers, the numbers have begun to matter more.

"Before, if you had a $10 or $5 co-pay, it didn't hit your pocketbook," said Chris Ohman, chief executive of the California Association of Health Plans, a trade group that represents insurers. "But if now you have to pay the first $2,000, the cost of an office visit matters to you a lot more."

Some insurance companies, including Aetna Inc., have posted prices online for some regions.

HealthCare Partners hopes potential customers will appreciate their tranparency and recognize the value of a physicians group over a walk-in clinic.

"It shows them, 'This is why I'm paying more,' "said health care consultant Mary Kay Scott. "They are giving me more."

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Posted by healthinsurance at May 30, 2007 04:11 PM