Health IT

Even insurance companies are trying to make healthcare shopping transparent

Imagine if shopping for healthcare felt a little bit like online shopping on Amazon.

You would be able to find the doctors who offer the therapy you are looking for, compare them and even see alternatives to the therapy you are searching.

That kind of process is empowering. And that is the intent behind UnitedHealth Group’s new tool myHealthcare Cost Estimator, which launched recently to UnitedHealth’s 17 million members in 47 markets.


What makes it different, according to Nick Martin, vice president of innovation and R&D at UnitedHealth, is that the cost estimate is based on actual contracted rates — the fees that the insurance companies negotiate with physicians and hospitals.

“It is not based on past claims data and is not an estimate of past claims data,” Martin said.

For instance, if you are searching for a knee MRI, simply type that in to find doctors who offer that service that are near you, how much you might expect to pay, what their reviews are and alternative “care paths” — in this case, it may be a knee X-ray that would be cheaper than getting an MRI.

Martin, however, noted that the alternatives are given not to undermine the recommendation of a doctor who may have suggested an MRI, but to provide more information to the patient who can ask more questions of the doctor.

Martin also added that myHealthcare Cost Estimator provides comparisons between doctors by using UnitedHealth’s Premium Designate program that are “based on the industry standards for the specialty they reside in.”

Members also do searches based on location. The tool is available on, Martin said, along with other healthcare tools for wellness and disease management.

While UnitedHealth appears to be adopting a piecemeal approach to healthcare innovation where standalone online tools are offered through (or some apps on the App Store), a competing insurance company appears to be adopting a one-stop-shop concept.

Aetna has introduced the Aetna CarePass platform where the insurance company is functioning like Apple — it has provided developers an avenue to develop health apps that aim to fulfill a consumer’s every healthcare need.

In the words of the company, “the CarePass platform will enable a consumer to share information across some of the most popular health and fitness apps, and create a personalized, coherent experience to manage their whole health, from getting care to staying well.”

One popular app on Aetna CarePass whose developer Aetna acquired last year is iTriage — a patient engagement app where patients can search for nearby providers by typing in their symptoms, or conditions that they know they have and book appointments among other things. Another developer MapMyFitness’ apps now work with Aetna CarePass. The insurance company also is partnering with GoodRx that aims to provide transparency into cost of medications, according to mobiHealthNews.



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