Healthcare Shopping Becomes an Amazon-Like Experience: Vitals SmartShopper. Seriously!  RIGHT NOW! 

There are times when I really enjoy the fact that we named this blog Straight Talk.  This is one of them.  Stand by to be rocked:

A couple of months ago, my son came to me.  “Hey Dad, I think my MacBook is dead!”  Nobody wants to hear that, especially from their 21-year-old college senior about to graduate who really needs his MacBook working so he can get college over with. Visions of a $1,500 replacement started haunting me.

So I, the ex-Radio Shack computer technician (a long story, maybe another day), sprang into action. I got the MacBook from him and used my big, bad gaming PC to do some research, got some diagnostic tools, and determined that the 4GB of RAM (you getting this?) in the machine were being totally consumed by Apple’s barrage of system updates to the point where the poor machine just couldn’t run anything else. The solution?

“It’s 2017, and shopping for healthcare prices is about to change in a very big way for every Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana customer.  In fact, your pricing information is just a click away with SmartShopper.”

More power, or, in tech speak, RAM!

Since the computer’s specs said it could handle 8GB, I went shopping. I called the genius bar first and learned I could get an appointment in about a week. Nonsense! I said, “I’ll do it myself!” Next stop? Google! Amazon!

Within five minutes, I had 20 vendors all cheerily offering me not only the needed memory upgrade, but also the toolkit required to get the back off the laptop in the first place. I had a wide range of types and prices to choose from.  One click, $50 and three days later, the memory and the tools were on my desk at home. Five minutes after that, the upgrade was complete, and my son’s laptop was back in full running order. Boom!  Dad saves the day!

Is there a DIY for healthcare needs, though?
Last year, my doctor recommended I get a colonoscopy.  Since I’m an economist and work for Blue Cross, I wondered how much this procedure would cost.  I made a few calls, stayed on hold a long time, and after hours of calling around, discovered that nobody knew how much a colonoscopy costs. Or if they did, they certainly wouldn’t admit to it.  And even when they would throw out numbers, it was with a raft of disclaimers like, “oh, you have good insurance, it won’t cost you much!”

“Over 300 procedures and tests. And the prices are based on our claims data, so they include all of Blue Cross’ negotiations and discounts with providers – that means you see the actual, real price ranges for these procedures.”

What is wrong with this picture? When I go to purchase something like computer RAM that costs a few dollars but has zero implications for my health or well-being, I am bombarded with tons of choices and a wide range of quickly identifiable prices that lets me pick what I consider the best deal. But when I shop for a procedure that could have life-altering effects, I can’t get pricing data nor tell the difference between one clinic and another! Seems crazy, doesn’t it?

Well, let’s put an end to this nonsense, shall we? How about today? Works for me!

Healthcare Choices: A Click Away
It’s 2017, and shopping for healthcare prices is about to change in a very big way for every Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana customer.  In fact, your pricing information is just a click away with SmartShopper.

Get out your member ID card and follow this link: https://bcbsla.vitalssmartshopper.com (You can also get there from our main website, www.bcbsla.com).

In just a few minutes, you will see exactly how much hundreds of different tests and procedures – colonoscopies, mammograms, MRIs, etc. —  could cost you at all the facilities in the Blue Cross network that do that that procedure and are within up to one hour’s travel time of your location. (Keep in mind that just because a facility shows up in SmartShopper doesn’t mean it’s in your specific plan’s network. You still need to check your plan type and benefits to see which doctors/clinics/hospitals are in network for you.)

“The 47 locations show price ranges for the same procedure from $1,249 to $3,812!  That means the most expensive place I could go to for a routine colonoscopy costs 305% more than the least-expensive site. Do you think your doctor knows that?”

Over 300 procedures and tests. And the prices are based on our claims data, so they include all of Blue Cross’ negotiations and discounts with providers – that means you see the actual, real price ranges for these procedures.

If you prefer to get the data by phone, the SmartShopper site has a hotline where you can speak with someone who will look through the site on your behalf and read the information to you.

Let me show you HOW real.
I searched for a “Colonoscopy with removal of lesion or polyp.” Typically, when people have a colonoscopy, the doc will find at least one thing he wants to cut out of you, so I searched for the most work I’d need done to give myself the best possible picture of what this would cost.

The result listed 47 different places within an hour’s drive from me that do colonoscopies with polyp removal. 47.  I only managed to call four while I was trying to get a price last year, with zero success.

Here’s the interesting part:

The 47 locations show price ranges for the same procedure from $1,249 to $3,812!  That means the most expensive place I could go to for a routine colonoscopy costs 305% more than the least-expensive site. Do you think your doctor knows that?

Well now, you do.

Why does this matter to you, the customer?
How high is the deductible on your health insurance? Did you know that today, 40% of all working people have a family deductible of at least $3,000? What about your co-insurance payment and your maximum out-of-pockets costs? Odds are, no matter what procedure you are having, if it’s early in the year, lots of money is going to come out of your own pocket.

Wouldn’t you like to know how much before you go in to get the work done?

“Information is power, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana has just made its members a lot more powerful! Please take advantage of that power and use SmartShopper.”

Turns out, the place I went to for my colonoscopy last year, based my doctor’s preference, came in around $2,200. That’s roughly $1,000 more than I needed to spend. Boy howdy!  I could have used that $1,000 at Christmastime!

“But Mike, colonoscopies are preventive and are supposed to be covered 100% by my insurance!”

That’s true — until they find something!  One little polyp found, and you have to pay because the service just went from preventive to treatment. But, to be fair, let’s look at something lots of people have that isn’t covered 100% by your insurance:

Ever go to the Doctor with back trouble? Then you’ve probably already had a CT Scan of Lumbar/Lower Spine.” (That’s a fancy way of saying “an imaging test to check out back pain and look for possible causes.”)  It’s among the more common medical procedures people have.

I just checked SmartShopper to find out how much that procedure costs and how many places I can go within an hour’s drive of my home to get one.

Answer? 28 different locations near me. Prices? From a low of $217 to a high of $822! So, only a 379% difference. Wouldn’t you like to keep that extra $600 in your pocket? I sure would!

SmartShopper, which we are operating through a partnership with Vitals, an independent company that provides transparency around healthcare cost and access information, is turning healthcare shopping into an Amazon-like experience for the first time ever!

And, this is just phase one – we are going to keep adding more information to SmartShopper to give you easy access to more healthcare pricing details.

Do I sound excited? Yes, I really am, for ALL of us.

Information is power, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana has just made its members a lot more powerful! Please take advantage of that power and use SmartShopper.

If you are a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana customer age 18 or older, with the exception of those covered through the Federal Employee Program, you can access SmartShopper online. You’ll need to create an online account on your first visit that you will log in with each time you come back to search. And, SmartShopper includes a hotline option if you need this information provided by phone.

So, no matter which test, screening or procedure your doctor tells you to have, check SmartShopper before you go in – it could save you a lot of money when the bill comes due. It’s money in your pocket.  You deserve the truth.  You deserve all the transparency we can give you!