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Study Finds Use of Pricing Transparency Tools Associated with Lower Health Costs

October 22, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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The use of health pricing comparison tools was associated with lower payments for clinical services such as advanced imaging and laboratory tests, according to a new research study.

Researchers from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley examined the association between the availability of health service prices to patients and the total claims payments. They looked at medical claims over a four year period of 502,949 patients who were insured in the United States by 18 employers that provided a price transparency platform to their employees. What they found was that patients who searched the platform 14 days before receiving care had lower claim payments than those who did not.

Payments by those who used the transparency tools were 14 percent lower for laboratory tests, 13 percent lower for advanced imaging, and 1 percent lower for clinician office visits. Researchers say this translates into $3.45 for laboratory tests, $124.74 for advanced imaging, and $1.18 for clinician office visits.

Authors of the study say that pricing tools may either lead patients to forgo care or increase use, based on pricing. “For this reason, our study cannot determine whether the price transparency technology reduces overall health care spending. Future research should extend this analysis to services beyond the three used in this study. It should also examine how use is affected to better understand the broader effect of price transparency on health care spending and population health,” they write in the study.

The study was published in the recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

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