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Highmark Introduces Cost Comparison Web Tool

Highmark has rolled out a new Web tool that lets members view the costs of certain surgical procedures at different medical facilities.

Highmark, a Pittsburgh-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurer, has introduced Care Comparison Costs, a new tool on its Web site that allows members to compare the costs of 17 elective surgical procedures at different medical facilities before scheduling their operation.

Members that access the tool can obtain average cost ranges for the same procedures at different hospitals or medical facilities, according to a press release. The tool does not provide actual estimates of out-of-pocket costs. However, Highmark says that the cost range information can help members with coinsurance or deductibles to better understand their expenses.

"The Care Comparison Costs tool provides members with additional information to help them research hospital and other medical facility options for care, understand the health costs associated with particular conditions and treatments and choose the facility that is best for them and their family," Dr. Carey Vinson, vice president of quality and medical performance management, Highmark, said in the press release.

The new tool was developed in collaboration with four other Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans -- WellPoint (Indianapolis), Premera Blue Cross (Mountlake Terrace, Wash.), Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Eagan, Minn.) and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (Detroit). Currently, cost information from fiscal year 2008 is available for network hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers in various markets nationwide, including Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado, California, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Washington, according to the press release. The cost data will be updated twice annually.

"When we make costs transparent to the consumer, it allows them to shop and compare health care costs in the same way they do with retail goods and services," said Vinson. "This tool should result in more informed decisions and better savings in their health care spending."

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