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Assessing and Improving Cost Estimator Tools for Consumers

Assessing and Improving Cost Estimator Tools for Consumers
  • By: Consumers Union
  • Date: December 2016
  • Priority Area: Empowering Health Care Consumers
  • Type: Resources
  • Category: Article, Report
  • Document: Download

Overview

This NYSHealth-funded report in Consumer Reports offers ratings of health cost estimator tools, both nationally and New York State-specific, that help consumers make better-informed decisions about their health care.

New Yorkers are increasingly subject to higher cost-sharing, but with few resources to shop for lower-priced health care. In the absence of information, some health care consumers with high cost-sharing may avoid or postpone needed care. Others, without a source of comparison data, may end up going to a high-priced provider with poorer outcomes for patients, even though a more qualified provider could have treated them at a lower price. One mechanism that can prove helpful to consumers is cost estimator tools, which are often offered by health plans on their member websites, as well as on other public websites. Although these tools give consumers a sense of what they will have to pay for a service or procedure, they can vary in terms of their usefulness, accuracy, comprehensiveness, and consumer-friendliness. Improved cost estimator tools can help consumers predict their health care costs and find more affordable care, as well as spur providers to lower their costs to remain competitive.

The new report in Consumer Reports offers ratings of health care cost estimator tools—both nationally and New York State-specific—on ease of use; functionality; content, scope, and reliability; price estimates; drug cost information; patient outcomes; and value. Additionally, an NYSHealth-supported issue brief by Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, provides more analysis of cost estimator tools available to New Yorkers, with user experience feedback and recommendations on how health plans and policymakers can improve the availability and quality of such tools. The issue brief identifies best practices and features of those tools that can used as a model for others.