Good Deals with Health Bargain Hunters

Surgery to remove the appendix at a California hospital could cost $ 180 000. Have the operation at another institution in the state and the bill could be as little as $ 1,500.

This type of disparity is typical throughout the country, combined with rising health costs and the increasing amount of data available online, has requested several start-ups to enter the business of helping companies and their employees to save health care dollars.

"This is changing the way people for health care, and therefore change the way care is delivered," said Giovanni Colella, co-founder of Castlight Health Inc., a company based in San Francisco that helps patients shop for care.

Medical costs in the U.S. increased 88 percent to $ 2.59 billion in the last decade, while out-of-pocket spending increased 49 percent to 299.7 million dollars, according to data centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Castlight works, showing how physicians, laboratories and hospitals charge for their services, and provides quality indices. May 1, the company announced it has raised $ 100 million from investors. Other sites like, health and health at work employers ClearCost Corp. helps identify physicians and cheaper suppliers for their workers.

Travelocity for health care
With their out of pocket medical expenses in place, employees are increasingly open to ways to save. Last year, 13 percent of U.S. employees were covered by so-called high-deductible plans that require them to pay for most health care costs, an increase of 3 percent for five years, according to Mercer, a industry consultant based in New York.

Castlight companies target health plans and self-insured costs them a monthly fee based on the number of employees and their covered dependents. Collects data on claims paid by employers and insurers, while posting information on a website for companies and their employees. The closely held company, which claims to be a Travelocity for health care, serving more than 250,000 employees and dependents in dozens of companies.

By helping people to compare the cost of health care providers, except firms operating Castlight 3 to 5 percent of its cost base, said Colella.

Cheaper care
CareOperative LLC, another company closely held, debuted in January 2009. CareOperative allows consumers to use the free service, while charging companies a fee to find areas of health where they and their employees can save. The service is committed to reducing health care costs the company to 6 percent in the search for cheaper alternatives for employees and give them incentives to switch doctors or hospitals. The site of Nashville, Tennessee, based on "hundreds of thousands" of visitors a year, Aimee Stern, a spokesman said in an interview.

Mona Lori Frisbie began in 2007 as a crowd-sourcing tool for patients. When few visitors have posted the prices they pay for services, supplemented with data from Medicare as well as links to data on claims paid elsewhere. Approximately 300 to 500 people a day use the free service, he said, pay for itself in Internet advertising.

"Everyone wants to look and look, but not many people want to contribute and share," Frisbie said in a telephone interview. "It has the same effect as some of these other social media tools that people love to share, where to eat and stay."

High deductibles
One problem with these services is not easy to make direct price comparisons with medical treatment and that many consumers do not take the time to do it, even if this service is available, it has been, said Paul Keckley, executive director of the Center Health Solutions at Deloitte in Washington.

"This material is over the heads of everyone," said Keckley, however, "there will always be some group, we believe it is about 2 percent will actually act on this."

Keckley said he hopes that these services continue to grow but at a slow pace, as more employees are passed to insurance plans to high deductible.

While not say whether Colella Castlight is still profitable, revenue is increasing "exponentially" and the number of customers, more than double this year, he said.

Allison Brown, director of social services in the Regis Corp. (RGS) (RGS), said using Castlight service has paid off.

"We've had people actually ask your doctor about what they were charged, according to what they saw in the Castlight system," he said.

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