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Patients, Physicians Adopting Medical Cost Estimators

Patients, Physicians Adopting Medical Cost Estimators

In an attempt to hold down escalating healthcare expenses, an increasing number of payers are selling high-deductible health plans to consumers — where annual deductibles can exceed $6,000. Unfortunately, these greater upfront costs can effectively price many patients out of healthcare services.

In response to runaway costs, entrepreneurs have stepped in and developed cost-comparison websites and mobile apps to help consumers compare healthcare providers, facilities, and pharmacies to find the best prices. Copatient.com, Blink Health, GoodRX, and Amino.com are all examples of websites that aim to help consumers find lower prices for healthcare and prescription medications. 

While purchasing healthcare is not exactly like buying a car or finding the best theater tickets, says Doug Hirsch, cofounder and co-CEO of GoodRX, the same principles apply. "In this day and age, we compare prices on everything on the internet," he says, "So I [asked] my cofounder 'Is there a way we can organize [drug] information so Americans can know what they are going to pay between the time they leave the doctor's office and show up at the pharmacy?'"

Visitors to the GoodRX website simply type in the name of the drug they wish to purchase and their location and they are presented with a list of pharmacies and prices. Because there are any number of discount programs for prescription medications, for example, manufacturer coupons and $4 drug lists at discount pharmacies, a consumer may come out ahead by paying cash for his medication. Consumers can also find information on Medicare Part D copays on the website. "Either you can just use your copay … or if there is a lower price that we've found we'll say, 'Don't use your Medicare here, you should just go to Walmart and pay $4,'" says Hirsch.

Drug prices tend to vary wildly and often don't have anything to do with manufacturing the actual drug itself, says Hirsch. It could be that a particular drug has been moved to a higher-cost tier by the insurance company or has been removed from the formulary (a list of approved drugs) altogether. The end result means a much higher cost for the patient, which could lead to the patient not filling his prescription at all.

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