In recent years, individuals have become increasingly responsible for paying more of their medical costs out of their own pockets, because of increased deductibles and co-payments in their insurance plan, as well as a narrowing of the networks of providers covered by their insurance.
"Consumers, employers and regulatory agencies will now have a single source of consistent, transparent health-care information based on the most reliable data imaginable, including actual cost, which only insurers currently have," said David Newman, executive director of the independent nonprofit HCCI.
"Voluntarily making this information available will be of immeasurable value to consumers and other health system participants as they seek to manage the cost and quality of care," Newman said.
Other major insurers have expressed interest in joining the initiative, and the group "expects additional carriers to participate in the near future" and be on board for the launch of the tool, HCCI said.
HCCI's online "transparency tool" will aggregate pricing data from commercial health plans, as well as Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans if the nonprofit gets individual states to share that information. Cost data will be supplemented with information about the quality of care and other data to help consumers "make more information decisions about health care," HCCI said.
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Newman boasted that HCCI's pre-existing relationships with insurers give it access to data on billions of insurance claims quicker than other sources of information. "We have the fastest health-care data...out there," he said.
"We hold data on just about 25 percent of the entire insurance market under age 65," Newman said.
In addition to free, publicly available data, HCCI's tool will give password-protected access to consumers for prices related to their individual plans. Insurers who already have price-comparison tools of their own will integrate them with HCCI's tool.
And the nonprofit also will, for a price, help employers customize the data for use by their workforce. Revenue from that will support the initiative.
HCCI's tool will join a growing field of companies and online portals set up to shed light of actual health-care costs, including Castlight Health, whose stock started public trading earlier this year, as well as Clearhealthcosts.com and Healthcare Bluebook.