As my lovely bride of 35+ years will tell you, I’m a bit of a new-gadget person (that’s like saying Tiger Woods might have hit a golf ball or two in his time). I’ve always been fascinated by new technology and new ways of getting things done. So, as you might imagine, I have quite a collection of toys and apps. Would it surprise you to know I started computer gaming on home computers in 1981? Or that I’m still at it? Yep, last night was “Halo Night!” That’s the reality of me.
A few years ago, a new way of presenting data through a digital tool really caught my attention. I’ve used it so much over the years personally, but in talking to folks who could REALLY use it to save money, I’m finding a lot of them aren’t even aware it exists.
I can’t have that. It’s too smart, and too cool!
Mike Told Me: You’d Better Shop Around
I’m talking about Smart Shopper. We rolled this out a few years back, and it’s still there, on the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana website. Just go to www.bcbsla.com and click on “Save.” On the bottom left, you’ll have the option to “Compare costs and save!” which is exactly what Smart Shopper does. Or be direct and go to www.bcbsla.com/SmartShopper.
SmartShopper came back into my consciousness a few days ago, when I was thinking about my next colonoscopy (great daydreaming!). Well, I am about to turn 61 years old, you know, and I’m due for this routine screening – I shared all the reasons why this is important to keep up with earlier this year. Screening for colon cancer is a sensible thing for people like me, and you too, I’m betting.
But Smart Shopper doesn’t just help me price out where to have my colonoscopy done. It has HUNDREDS of other covered Blue Cross tests, treatments and services, and you can shop around to see the REAL cost ranges with different providers.
I had my first colonoscopy when I was 51. The doc found a polyp (not dangerous yet) and removed it, recommending I come back in five years. I went back through at 56, and they found and removed another polyp or two. My next every-five-years screening is up, so time to let them scan and (likely) clean things out again! I’m starting by going shopping!
I put in my ZIP code and let SmartShopper show me all my health care facility options for this procedure within 30 miles of where I live (you can make that range higher or lower, depending on how far you’re willing to travel). The price variance was, well just stunning.
My least-expensive option was $1,131. My MOST expensive option was $6,550!!! How’s that for a price difference? And I had seven locations to choose from, none of which was more than 20 miles from my home. It’s important to remember that Smart Shopper will give you relative pricing and price ranges, but the actual amount you pay out of pocket depends on the type of coverage you have, your deductibles, coinsurance and max out-of-pocket limits. Still – shopping around ahead of time gives you a good idea of what’s out there before you schedule that scoping.
But Mike, don’t most insurance plans cover colonoscopies with no out-of-pocket cost?
While most insurance plans cover routine colonoscopies, you may be billed for other services – such as polyp removal, follow-up visits and services, etc. So it’s important to know their pricing before you go.
Take Time to Shop Now, and You Could Save Later
One thing is certain, deductibles on most health plans are higher than they’ve ever been, so the likelihood of you having to pay something out of pocket is greater than it was in the past. Taking the time to look at your options and picking a less-expensive location that’s in your plan network will save you money in most cases. Remember, Smart Shopper has you input your member ID information, so the results only show you in-network facility pricing, based on real claims costs. So, comparing numbers among two or three providers is a valid financial exercise.
Keep in mind that even if your health care provider has recommended you go to one facility for a procedure, you can still shop around in your network to see what it would cost at other facilities. Truthfully, providers do not always know what things cost on your health plan. If you notice a price difference and want to be referred to a lower-cost facility, take that information back to your provider. He or she will probably be impressed you took the time to look into this.
And did I mention that many employers who offer coverage through us also offer cash rewards when you use the most cost-efficient providers?
Let me encourage you, if you are a Blue Cross customer, to go ahead and play around with the tool a bit. Feel free to enter tests and procedures you may have ALREADY had, so you can see what the costs would be for the next time, especially if it’s a recurring screening like mammograms or colonoscopies. Imaging tests (like X-rays, CT scans or MRI), lab work, procedures, and the price ranges by facility are all in there waiting for you. And they have been for quite some time, just being updated quietly and waiting for you to start shopping and saving!
Straight Talk is, medical price range differences can be HUGE between one provider and another. Why not go in armed with all the information you can get?
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