In the newly transformed health care landscape, more insurers are trying to maintain affordability by setting high deductibles. A “bronze level” plan for a family of four may require over $12,000 per year of out-of-pocket spending before the insurance begins to pay.
In response to high costs, patients are increasingly shopping around for the best prices on non-emergency medical care. One emerging trend that every American should know about is bidding for medical care.
How medical bidding works
Prospective patients create a profile on a bidding website such as Medibid listing their specific medical need (for example, a surgical procedure). Your profile includes a few bits of health information, such as height and weight, allergies you might have, and medications you’re currently taking. You also state your location, and how far you’re willing to travel to reach a provider.
Doctors then read your profile and enter a bid, telling you what they will charge for your procedure. Patients are able to review doctors who enter these bids, checking where they went to medical school and how many times they’ve done that particular procedure. The depth of information offered by Medibid on specific doctors is far greater than you would typically find in classic medical insurance referrals.
Some employers use Medibid to source care because they recognize the money-saving benefits of medical competition. Individuals can also use the service for a small membership fee without involving their health insurer, and simply pay the doctor in cash for the procedure.
Formalizing medical tourism
Many Americans are already familiar with the concept of “medical tourism.” Sometimes paying the travel expenses to reach a clinic in Mexico or India can cost you less than having the same procedure done in your hometown.
For this reason, there are a number of clean state-of-the-art foreign clinics that cater to the medical needs of Americans who can’t afford to pay hometown prices for medical care. With the arrival of medical bidding, these foreign providers can advertise their services and qualifications right alongside the local American providers, and consumers will have a wider set of options to choose from.
A few tips on “shopping” for care
Be aware that sites like Medibid don’t verify doctors’ qualifications. You must be prepared to do some of your own homework checking out the doctor’s reputation. This may include looking at patient reviews of the doctor online, and it should also include a phone conversation with the doctor.
If you’re planning to travel any distance for medical care, be sure to share as much information as possible with the doctor or clinic by phone ahead of time. Doctors usually want to meet you before agreeing to do a procedure, so you should make sure that there are no surprises for them once you enter the examination room.
Check to see if your insurance company will work with you to find lower-priced care, because in some cases your insurer may pay your travel expenses if you accept a bid from a far-away doctor that is significantly cheaper. However, many insurers are still unfamiliar with this type of payment structure, and they may add “out of network” charges that you should know about ahead of time.
As the healthcare landscape continues to become more transparent, patients will begin to act like consumers. Introducing an element of free-market competition into non-emergency medicine is one very promising development for controlling your health care costs.