A Maine website that launched last fall is giving consumers price information on hundreds of medical procedures and tests – including delivering a baby, hip replacements and carpal tunnel surgery. Now the site’s operators are planning to make major improvements this year.
Maine is one of the most transparent states in the country for medical price comparison, experts say, thanks to a $3.7 million federal grant and the efforts of the Maine Health Data Organization to start www.comparemaine.org.
“We’re going to be looking at ways to keep improving the site. In the second quarter of this year, we will be adding more procedures to the site, including ones that are common, such as colonoscopies and hysterectomies,” said Karynlee Harrington, executive director of the Maine Health Data Organization.
The notion for a transparent and public database of health care procedures and costs started in 1996 when the Legislature created the Maine Health Data Organization as an independent executive agency. Its role was to collect clinical and financial health care information and make it available to the public.
Although data was collected for years, there was no uniform management of it, nor an accessible database. A Deloitte report written in 2010 pointed out the shortcomings of the agency and made several recommendations, leading to the organization’s reinvention. In October, MHDO unveiled the website, which offers comparisons of cost, patient satisfaction and infection rates for about 300 procedures among 200 health care facilities.
The comparemaine.org website has been averaging about 550 visitors per week, Harrington said. She hopes for increased public use throughout the year.
“We are going to continue to look at ways to promote the site,” Harrington said. “We’re going to learn how to improve how we communicate and raise awareness about the website.”
There was a flurry of interest and website hits when the site launched, Harrington said, driven by media stories about the cost transparency tool. Harrington said adding procedures will make it more likely that people will find the site useful, driving traffic up.
The costs shown on the site represent the average cost of what the medical provider charges insurance companies, and does not factor in patients’ health insurance, which will often reduce the cost for patients.
Still, depending on cost-sharing factors in health plans like deductibles and co-pays, diverging costs can make a difference in the pocketbook for consumers. For instance, the cost of a vaginal delivery at Rumford Hospital is $5,402 versus $13,428 at Maine Medical Center.
Gallbladder removal is another procedure where the costs vary, from a low of $9,789 at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan to $22,856 at Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle.
Emily Brostek, executive director of Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care, an Augusta-based nonprofit advocacy group, said they haven’t received any feedback yet from patients who have used the site, but as awareness grows and more procedures are added to the site, that could change.
Brostek said it’s not the type of site people will browse for enjoyment, so it won’t generate casual visits, but it does provide useful information for patients with a specific purpose.
“People are visiting the website for narrow reasons,” Brostek said. “I’m pleased to see they’re adding procedures like colonoscopies. That’s something that’s scheduled weeks or months in advance and where cost can make a difference.”
Brostek said Maine has “one of the most user-friendly sites in the country.”
National research on the topic shows that Maine is among the few states, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Virginia, that provide meaningful price transparency on medical costs, according to a 2014 Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute report.