A company in the Los Angeles area called HealthyPrice has posted prices on its website for 400 procedures and over 100 physician office visit fees. For patients without insurance or who have high deductibles, the ability to go online and really "shop" for the best deal is something long overdue.
Here is how it works. The patient goes online and chooses the provider for the test. It might be a lab study or an MRI or a colonoscopy. The patient pays in advance and receives a billing code to bring to the physican's office. HealthyPrice handles the payment, minus a billing fee, and pays the doctor or lab via check or Paypal. The doctor has no paperwork to handle and HealthyPrice has an arrangement in place for discounted laboratory testing.
Obviously people are not going to be able to use this type of discount service for emergencies, nor does it guarantee any type of quality care. But for blood tests, imaging tests or even some procedures, knowing what it will cost upfront and being able to choose is great. The idea that patients have no idea what something will cost until after the fact is crazy. I do think U.S health care is the only "industry" that can get away with this. Alternatively, for the doctor, U.S. health care is the only industry that can get away with not paying the bill at all AFTER the service is rendered. It is a system that is set up to benefit no-one except the middle man.
I have long been an advocate of price transparency in health care. This is a small step in the right direction.