By Bruce Japsen, Forbes Contributor
MAY 14, 2014 – The elusive goal to provide consumers more transparency about prices may soon be achieved via a collaborative effort of health insurance giants Aetna AET +0.04% (AET), Humana HUM -1.5% (HUM) and UnitedHealth Group UNH -0.97% (UNH), the three confirmed today.
A nonprofit organization the three work with known as Health Care Cost Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, said the insurance companies will develop and provide consumers “free access to an online tool that will offer consumers the most comprehensive information about the price and quality of health care services.” Additional health plans could soon join Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth in the effort.
The move by the insurance companies comes as more Americans gain health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, these newly insured Americans and those already with coverage are demanding more information about the cost of care as deductibles and co-payments rise and they pay more out of their own pockets for medical services and treatments.
The health insurers, who will continue to provide their own information via their own web sites, will provide information to the Institute as a supplement to what the companies provide. The Institute will maintain and manage access to the information in a secure portal.
The information on prices will also include information about quality and other information in an effort to help health care become more transparent.
“Consumers, employers and regulatory agencies will now have a single source of consistent, transparent health care information based on the most reliable data available, including actual costs, which only insurers currently have,” David Newman, the Health Care Cost Institute’s executive director said in a statement issued this morning.
There will be three tiers of information provided. In one tier, any consumer will get average price information for an “episode of care” such as a knee replacement or heart surgery based on complex coding and claims data submitted to and analyzed by the Institute.
In another tier, consumers with coverage from Aetna, Humana or UnitedHealth Group will get more detailed price information given the health plan subscribers in their plans already have a relationship with the companies and therefore more specific information on their network of medical care providers that are part of the data set used by the Institute. Meanwhile, employers will have access to even more “granular” information to help them customize information for employees, Newman said.
“Voluntarily making this information available will be of immeasurable value to consumers and other health system participants as they seek to manage the cost and quality of care,” Newman said.
Humana said the online tool will “satisfy consumer, employer and regulator demand for an easy and consistent way to compare prices by providing a free, single source of information on health care services, price and quality.”
Meanwhile, Aetna said its executives “believe that the health care system should be redesigned around the consumer.”
“Delivering reliable, transparent cost and quality information to consumers is a major part of that process,” Aetna said. “This initiative is a step in the right direction and will provide all consumers with access to comprehensive information about the price and quality of health care services.”