Vail Daily letter: Lifting the curtain
The black curtain on the cost of medical services in Colorado is in the process of being lifted. There is a new website, http://www.comedprice.org, that has been released. It allows health care consumers, which is all of us, to log on and compare the average price for medical services at hospitals in the state of Colorado. The site not only allows you to compare prices at hospitals, the data for which comes from the Colorado All Payer Claims Database, it also allows you to review Quality Information and Patient Perspective for each facility. The site is being built and is administered by the Center for Improving Value in Health Care, civhc.org.
Along with 15-plus other volunteers from around the state of Colorado, I participated in an online focus group on April 29 to provide feedback and suggestions for the continued development and improvement of the comedprice.org website. All of the participants were well informed and had very constructive suggestions. The current data in the system under “surgery and other services” provides costs for hip and knee joint replacements. It appears that in the near future there will be data for breast biopsy, colonoscopy screening, gall bladder removal, hernia repair and tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy. Suggestions were made to provide data for imaging services, urgent care, primary care and dental.
In the past, most people paid a monthly insurance premium that was deducted from their paycheck at their place of employment. When they went to see a doctor or checked into a hospital, there was a nominal co-payment for services and then the insurance company negotiated the prices with the provider and paid the rest of the bill. Health care consumers had no idea of the actual cost of the medical services that they were using. Much has changed with the payment process for health care in the past five years. Many consumers are purchasing their own health care policies directly from insurance companies and in certain areas the only affordable monthly premiums come with policies that have $5,000-plus deductibles. In the age of Amazon-like online price comparisons for most goods and services, many health care providers have been reluctant to publish their prices. Consumers walked into a medical facility and have been giving providers a blank check to bill them for any services at any price. In the end, these prices have been non-negotiable and have resulted in bill collectors chasing people down for charges that may be five to 10 times the national average.
The VVMC has just finalized plans for a $110 million remodel and upgrade of their facilities. As a nonprofit, will this result in a more cost effective way for them to deliver health care services to their constituents in Eagle County? If not, then they may be building a Sears like department store in downtown Vail that will try and be all things to all people, but may be obsolete before it is completed. The VVMC does not have an exclusive right to provide health care services to people in the Vail Valley. Centura Health will be entering the market with a new facility in Avon in June of 2016. While the VVMC has been around for 50 years, will they be cost competitive and relevant in the next one, five or 10 years or will they go the way of Circuit City and JC Penney?