Whose job is it to know the cost of care?

Jun 26 2014
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When a doctor and patient discuss possible medical procedures — like blood tests, X-rays or even surgery – one of the questions that should come up is cost. Unfortunately this issue is seldom raised and even if it is, doctors may not have the answer.

In fact, less than 15 percent of internal medicine programs formally train their residents to be conscious of the costs of care, according to a recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

And maybe doctors shouldn’t be the one to talk costs with patients.

“Most doctors can’t answer cost questions,” Chris Riedl, who leads Aetna’s national accounts product strategy, said. “They simply don’t know what type of benefits plan you have. They rely on their office staff for that.”

“Less than 15 percent of internal medicine programs formally train their residents to be conscious of the costs of care.”

Comparison shopping is common in today’s consumer-driven economy. A person looking to buy a car will shop online first, but this same approach is rarely used when someone seeks medical care. Many people don’t even know that two hospitals can provide the same quality of care but their costs can differ significantly. The smart shopper might like to choose the less expensive option if that’s the only difference.

Sometimes a doctor’s office staff can find answers about cost. There are also tools to get estimates to these questions, including Aetna’s Member Payment Estimator, which provides approximate treatment costs based on a member’s actual health benefits. When there’s a choice available, smart consumers should research their options before they buy.