Empowering Health Care Consumers

Grantee Name

ClearHealthCosts, Inc.

Funding Area

Empowering Health Care Consumers

Publication Date

March 2021

Grant Amount

$123,453

Grant Date:

October 2019–December 2020

Price transparency can help consumers shop for health care to save money and achieve higher value. This means that consumers and patients will know the cost of something before they receive it.

ClearHealthCosts, an online journalism outlet aiming to bring greater transparency to the health care marketplace, has created PriceCheck, a repository for people to share what they paid for common health-related procedures and how they felt about it. ClearHealthCosts has worked with media partners in several U.S. cities to encourage millions of consumers to share and search price information on PriceCheck, as well as arm them with practical information and strategies to avoid unexpected high medical bills. These campaigns have led to increased media attention and public discussion about the cost of care, as well as increased public education on health care pricing.

NYSHealth awarded a grant to ClearHealthCosts, working in partnership with WNYC and Gothamist, to generate a consumer-driven campaign to educate the public on price variations in shoppable health care services in New York City.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Produced 28 articles on health care costs for Gothamist. Topics included the cost and access challenges of getting mental health services in New York; surprise bills related to breast cancer screenings and rabies treatments; and “blank check” financial liability for patients.
  • Appeared on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show six times to discuss the project and talk with listeners about health care cost issues.
  • Adapted to the changing context of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice issues. Beginning in March 2020, the focus of the project shifted to emphasize stories related to the pandemic, including costs associated with COVID-19 testing and improper billing for telemedicine visits. Later in the year, the campaign highlighted the racial inequities related to COVID, as the nation grappled with issues of racial justice. Several of these stories did not run on WNYC or Gothamist, but were published to the ClearHealthCosts website.
  • Received 175 submissions to the PriceCheckNYC online repository of health care bills. The vast majority of these were shared prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; only 15 bills were shared after March 1, 2020. Not unexpectedly, given the campaign’s changing focus during the pandemic, this project yielded a much lower number of submissions compared with ClearHealthCosts’ prior crowd-sourcing campaigns in other regions of the country.

The campaign’s focus changed substantially over the course of the grant period, from health care costs and prices broadly, then to COVID-19 pandemic-related costs, and then to COVID-19 stories more broadly. The project staff adapted nimbly and creatively and continued to produce excellent stories at a steady pace, but the necessary shifts in emphasis partly diluted the original focus of the project. Given the sharp drop in non-COVID health care during the pandemic, this is not surprising.

It was challenging for project staff to get the time and attention of the editors and other decision-makers at WNYC and Gothamist. Media outlets are already stretched thin; the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism in 2020 added new pressures and further strained limited resources in newsrooms all across the country. Getting technical support and analytics about website traffic was a persistent challenge for the grantee.

Working with two separate media outlets, even though one owns the other, brought additional hurdles. Our grantee at ClearHealthCosts noted, “We learned in a few short weeks that WNYC and Gothamist have separate editorial structures, and that picking stories and areas of coverage is not strictly codified.” The two also have different audiences that engaged differently with the PriceCheckNYC materials.

Despite the challenges, this campaign yielded high-quality reporting on pressing health care issues during a tumultuous time. It introduced facts and clarity to the chaos, giving readers and listeners practical information about navigating health care bills, advocating for themselves, and understanding the emerging and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign also engaged its audiences in sharing their own experiences and stories, allowing New Yorkers to learn from each other.

Following the NYSHealth grant period, ClearHealthCosts continues its in-depth reporting on timely health care issues, including stories to help New Yorkers understand and navigate the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. It is possible that the organization will bring a version of the PriceCheck model to additional markets within and beyond New York State, although media partnerships in those areas will likely not materialize until after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: N/A