UnitedHealth puts robust price transparency tools in consumers' hands


As health insurers continue their quest of achieving consumer engagement, many believe that offering price transparency tools is a key factor in achieving that goal. And UnitedHealth is taking those tools one step further by providing very specific cost estimates to their members. That means UnitedHealth members can get an extremely accurate price for total service cost, out-of-pocket expenses, co-payments and any outstanding deductibles.

To learn more about how UnitedHealth is leading the charge on price transparency, FierceHealthPayer spoke with Victoria "Tory" Bogatyrenko, UnitedHealth's national vice president for product, innovation and marketing (pictured right).

FierceHealthPayer: What is UnitedHealth's philosophy on consumer price transparency?

Victoria Bogatyrenko: There are so many aspects to price transparency--there's looking to understand total cost, individuals' out-of-pocket cost before they get care and make an informed choice in provider. And there's being able to do that through multiple channels, whether on the computer or a mobile phone. We provide consumers with access to price transparency before they seek care through our portal, myuhc.com, and our mobile app, Health4Me.

So our whole philosophy around price transparency is to provide consumers with a complete and accurate picture that's personalized to their specific situation. And we're making it easy for them to access, navigate and complete the job by putting the tools in their hands, whether they're at home or on the go.

The other thing that I would add is that on Health4Me, we recently launched the ability for any consumer to get a cost estimate. So we're publishing to the public, free of cost, market average prices. These aren't provider-specific costs, but we can give them a sense of how much any particular service is going to cost based on where they live and where they're seeking care.

It goes along with our broader philosophy that transparency is important especially given the greater share of expenses being born by the consumer based on their benefit design.

FHP: Can you describe the types of price transparency tools UnitedHealth currently offers?

Bogatyrenko: About two years ago, we launched a tool called myHealthcare Cost Estimator that replaced a legacy price transparency tool that we had in the market for about eight years. The myHealthcare Cost Estimator, which to date has delivered estimates valued at about $2.1 billion to our consumers and should exceed $3 billion by the end of the year. The tool contains cost estimates for about 520 services, providing consumers with the full picture for all costs related to a service. For example, outpatient surgery includes doctor visits before the surgery, lab tests, the actual procedure and follow-up care. There's also a host of educational materials available in the tool, including information about their deductibles, coinsurance and copayment.

Once consumers select a service that they're anticipating, the tool will share whether there are other treatment options to consider. For example, if they're searching for a cost estimate for back surgery, myHealthcare Cost Estimator will give them information about back surgery costs as well as costs for physical therapy and other alternate options. It will also give information about the procedure itself--what to expect, things to talk to the doctor about ahead of time, how to prepare and what to expect in terms of recovery.

It's meant to be more than just a simple pricing tool. It's meant to provide a whole host of information, explain benefits, give information about treatments, educate about the difference in quality and cost and maximize the benefits that they're paying for.

After consumers receive their service, that's when myClaimsManager continues to deliver a level of transparency. Consumers can go into the UnitedHealth portal through Health4Me and easily understand what their out-of-pocket costs are once the claim has been adjudicated, what they owe and why. MyClaimsManager also allows consumers to pay providers directly through the tool online. Later on this year, we'll also be able to make that online payment directly to providers through Health4Me.