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United Healthcare offers comparison shopping tool for health insurance buyers

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
United Healthcare, myHealthcare, comparison shopping, healthcare costs

For most Americans, sorting through the maze of health insurance is a daunting task. In many cases, after a healthcare service is rendered, the bill arrives, laden with surprises. To simplify the matter, United Healthcare, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, has developed a healthcare cost estimator that reportedly brings the ease and simplicity of retail-like “comparison shopping” to healthcare. The myHealthcare Cost Estimator offers a personalized tool that helps consumers navigate the healthcare system by providing cost, quality, and education resources all in one easy-to-use online service. The tool is available to the more than 14 million individuals currently enrolled inUnitedHealthcare.

The cost estimates available through the tool are based on estimates based on physicians’ and hospitals’ contracted rates. It provides information regarding quality and cost; in addition it contains educational healthcare information. United Healthcare notes that its subscribers are able to estimate the cost of more than 100 common treatments and procedures with maximum accuracy. Furthermore, the estimates are personalized to reflect an individual’s own health plan benefits, including their real-time account balances when applicable. The health insurer notes that its new online service is more precise than other calculators currently available. These estimators often only access old claims data, which is derived from only a handful of employers. In contrast, myHealthcare Cost Estimator draws on the company’s actual contracted rates with physicians, hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers in 47 markets; thus, supplying consumers with highly accurate pricing estimates.

United Healthcare Chief Product & Marketing Officer Yasmine Winkler explained, “myHealthcare Cost Estimator meets a longstanding consumer need for thorough but simple online comparison shopping for healthcare by putting relevant information right at people’s fingertips." She added, "myHealthcare Cost Estimator enables people to make better care decisions, by better understanding their treatment options, comparing services, and anticipating future costs.”

By building “care paths,” the online tool creates a comprehensive view of what the consumer should expect throughout their course of treatment, from the time they first visit the doctor, to the test or procedure, and all the way through to physical therapy or any necessary follow-up care. Quality and cost information is directly connected to in-network hospitals and physicians, and alternate treatment options are provided so consumers can have an informed conversation with their physician.

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The tool avoids placing an unnecessary focus on just costs. Collaboration with care providers is critically important when building cost estimators and other consumer support tools to ensure they not only enhance the overall patient experience but also accurately portray expected costs and treatment options. Tenet Healthcare Corporation is a large, multi-state healthcare delivery system. Its managed care officer, Clint Hailey, noted, “UnitedHealthcare’s myHealthcare Cost Estimator is the kind of innovation that can enhance access to quality care by helping people become more savvy health care consumers. Transparency in quality and cost information is key to not only empowering individual patients and their families, but also helping to improve our nation’s health care system.”

UnitedHealthcare plan participants access the tool online at Myuhc.com. Later this year, myHealthcare Cost Estimator will be integrated into Health4Me, UnitedHealthcare’s mobile app for iPhone and Android smartphones that helps people with employer-sponsored benefits plans access important health care information on their mobile devices.

Key features of myHealthcare include:

  • Cost estimates for more than 47 geographic areas covering more than 100 different treatments and procedures, such as surgeries, lab tests, radiology tests and office visits;
  • Ability to compare quality and cost information for 240,000 different physicians and hospitals;
  • Cost estimates that are tailored to a plan participant’s specific benefits plan design that identify what will be owed out-of-pocket, costs that will be paid by their employer, and real-time account balances available in an eligible health care account to pay toward the expenses;
  • Ability to assemble cost estimates by matching physicians with the specific facilities where they practice;
  • Presentation of common alternate treatment options to educate patients on their choices; and
  • Educational information about how their benefits work and how costs are determined.

The tool provides estimates based on available fee schedules and actual contracted rates with care providers, and if that information is not available estimates are based on previous claims with the care provider. myHealthcare Cost Estimator builds on the success of UnitedHealthcare’s Treatment Cost Estimator, which was created more than five years ago to help consumers understand how costs differ from doctor to doctor and comparison shop for health services.

Reference: UnitedHealthcare