Wellpoint partners with four health plans on cost transparency program

January 30, 2009

Health insurer Wellpoint plans to collaborate with health plans in four states on a new online cost transparency initiative.

Health insurer Wellpoint plans to collaborate with health plans in four states on a new online cost transparency initiative.

The initiative calls for the health plans to list total estimated cost ranges associated with 39 specific medical procedures performed at hospitals, outpatient surgery centers or other medical facilities, according to a statement from Wellpoint. The estimated cost ranges will be calculated by combining related services typically performed at the time of the procedure, not just the procedure itself, Wellpoint says.

The cost data is designed to help patients comparison shop among local healthcare providers at a “facility-specific” level, according to Wellpoint.

The four plans, like Wellpoint are “independent licensees” of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, a group of health plans across the nation. The four participating plans are: Highmark, in Pennsylvania; Premera Blue Cross, in Washington; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota; and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The health plans will release the cost information on their websites later this year, a Wellpoint spokesman said.

The cost information is based on each health plans’ claims-paid data over the past 12 months. The information will be updated every six months, according to Wellpoint.

“An essential step in transforming consumers’ role in their own healthcare decisions is to provide access to clear information about healthcare cost and quality,” says Angela Braly, Wellpoint’s CEO. “Our goal is always to work collectively with other Blue plans to enhance the offerings and programs available throughout the country.”

Despite Braly’s assertion on the value of providing health-shopping data to consumers, most consumers don’t rely on information from the Internet when shopping for primary care physicians, a recent study concluded.

The Wellpoint spokesman wouldn’t comment on whether the company plans to publish quality information on physicians in the future.