MyMedicalShopper allows patients to find lower-cost procedures

MyMedicalShopper allows patients to find lower-cost procedures

MyMedicalShopper, the Portsmouth-based provider of health care pricing information, shows that within a 30-mile radius of Portsmouth, the cost of a MRI can range from $500 to $1,786.

PORTSMOUTH – Within a 30-mile radius of Portsmouth, the cost of a colonoscopy can range from a low of $1,155 to a high of $2,588, more than two times the difference.

Need a blood test – called a lipid panel – to measure your cholesterol levels? The cost can range from $12 to $129.

If you’re having knee troubles and you need a magnetic resonance image (MRI), it can cost you anywhere from $500 to $1,786, more than three times the difference.

These comparative costs are some of the findings of MyMedicalShopper, the Portsmouth-based provider of health care pricing information. Analysis of the data it has been compiling over the last several months shows what the company describes as “huge price differences” for common health procedures throughout the state.

“When consumers stop overpaying for medical care, claims are driven down and health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses start to drop,” said Mark Galvin, MyMedicalShopper’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “Putting this money back in the hands of consumers will provide an additional boost to the New Hampshire economy.”

A little more than a year ago, Galvin, founder and managing partner of the New England Innovation Center, located downstairs at 75 Congress St., announced the creation of a new company, MMS Analytics Inc., with the intent of providing medical consumers “simple access to all the information necessary to make intelligent cost/benefit tradeoffs.”

From that came MyMedicalShopper, which, with its website (www.mymedicalshopper.com/) and smartphone apps (for Apple and Android devices), provide ways to comparative shop for medical procedures.

You delineate how far from your home you’re willing to travel – 10, 30, 60, 150 miles, whatever – and the procedure you need. The app returns with findings from low cost to high cost. Advertisers who pay for placement are at the top of the search results, but users are under no obligation to pick that result.

According to Galvin, since its launch in October 2014, MyMedicalShopper has gained about 4,000 subscribers, who have become more active in controlling their medical expenses, and about a dozen employers, who have folded the program into their health insurance offerings.

The months since the launch has provided Galvin and his team with a lot of data about the costs of medical procedures.

The company estimates that for the top 100 most common medical procedures, New Hampshire patients could have saved $346 million by comparison shopping for low-cost, high-quality health care providers.

It cited a common procedure such as a chest X-ray. “Lower-cost imaging centers are doing a large number of these procedures for around $100, but more often patients are needlessly spending two or three times as much at higher-cost facilities,” according to the company.

Galvin said the higher-cost facilities tend to be hospitals and labs associated with hospitals. He cited the lipid panel as an example, with hospital-affiliated labs charging 56 times more than the median.

According to Galvin, continued use of higher-cost procedures will continue to keep health care costs – and insurance premiums – high.

“It’s irresponsible, at some point, not to shop,” Galvin said. “Those who aren’t good consumers distort the market and hurt everybody.”

Galvin is a big advocate of health savings accounts, which is different from a flexible spending account (FSA).

With the flexible spending account, you estimate how much in a year you might need for medical, dental and vision costs, and money is taken from your wages each pay period and put into your FSA. “But,” said Galvin, “if you don’t use it, you lose it” at the end of the year. That money goes back to the employer.

With a health savings account (HSA) you, with your employer contributing up to a certain amount, put money into to an account. The money is pre-tax and earns interest. It can only be applied to health care expenses and rolls over from year to year. If enough money accumulates into the account, according to Galvin, it can be upgraded into an investment grade account such as a certificate of deposit.

To help fund the HSA, Galvin recommends employers sign on to health plans with a very high deductible, say $12,900 instead of $3,000. With a higher deductible, there is tremendous savings on the cost of a premium, maybe as much as $6,400 per employee, according to Galvin. Use that savings, he said, to fund the employee’s HSA.

The employee now has a health savings account of $6,400 that he/she can then manage by using the MyMedicalShopper tool to comparative shop for care. Most consumers, said Galvin, won’t spend their entire $6,400 in a year. He said the average is about $1,000 a year, which would be $4,000 for a family of four. That means some money rolls over into the next year when the employer could drop another $6,400 into the account from the savings of another high-deductible premium year.

He said the employee stays within what he called the “threshold” of a $3,000 out of pocket deductible.

Galvin said the company’s research has found people given an ability to manage their medical spending tend to be more pro-active about their health and have fewer doctor visits.

“If I act a little more healthy, I may keep a little more of my own money,” Galvin said.

Galvin believes the company’s work can help show accelerating medical costs.

“We talk a lot about our health care cost crisis in the country, but no proposed solution has anywhere near the same potential as price transparency,” he said. “This is how we reverse the trend of rising health care costs.”

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