Minute clinics have hospitals beat on transparency in healthcare pricing

Recently I joked about getting Kroger fuel points for going in for routine check-ups at my primary care doctor. The very next week I saw this when I walked into the grocery store. What I love about this is the numbers – an exact price for the physical – $29 – and an exact number […]

Recently I joked about getting Kroger fuel points for going in for routine check-ups at my primary care doctor. The very next week I saw this when I walked into the grocery store.

What I love about this is the numbers – an exact price for the physical – $29 – and an exact number of loyalty points for using their service – 50. No gray areas. This Little Clinic is new. I used to have to drive 20 minutes from my house to get to a supermarket clinic but this new one is 5 minutes away. And, I’ve already used it and had a smooth and satisfying experience.

I knew exactly what I was paying and what I was getting in return.

A few days later, I got a hospital bill in the mail, which delivered the completely opposite experience from my minute clinic visit.

I had a CT scan in early June. This is the bill for it. Here is how I read these numbers:

  • List price for the scan: $3,104.00
  • Anthem’s evaluation of what the scan is really worth: $419.75
  • Hospital’s padding: $2,811.40

Also, I like – but am puzzled by – the prompt payment discount. This tells me that hospitals can work like other service businesses that give discounts to customers who pay quickly. It also tells me that the scan is not even worth the $419.75 that Anthem forked over. I like the hospital and was satisfied with my service. I could tell that the technicians had been trained within an inch of their lives on “how to give good customer service.” I got cards with names on them – “XYZ provided care for you today,” and “We strive for 5s on our customer surveys.”

The best moment of customer service was one that the trainers could not have anticipated. I asked the tech if they used software to adjust the amount of radiation that the device used. I did not expect him to know what I was talking about.

“Yes, actually we do. We installed that just about six months ago,” he said. The hospital just won a customer for life.

My bill was not so delightful.

What is a fair price to pay for a CT scan? I imagine Anthem’s set reimbursement is stingy. I would pay more for the service because it was a good one and because of the additional safety factor of the dose-adjusting software.

But what is a fair price? I don’t have the time to call around and price shop. And people who have taken the time to do so have been frustrated by bureaucracy and hospitals’ inability to calculate a price.

I have the resources to pay my bills and I want to pay them. I also want to understand what I am paying for and what the services are actually worth. I have been tempted several times to offer to pay a cash price for healthcare services, even though I have insurance. It would cut down on so much frustration and hassle and faxing. I haven’t gone there yet, but this minute clinic vs. hospital experience was a big nudge in that direction.