Consumer News: Tools to help you research medical costs

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — In consumer news, I’m taking a hard look at your medical costs. They can be enough to bankrupt you. And those bills might take you completely by surprise. No more. New federal regulations that went into effect on Jan. 1 required hospitals to create user-friendly tools to help you figure out your out-of-pocket costs. Tuesday Rochester Regional Health rolled out their new tool for journalists so we could see exactly how it works.

Let’s assume I need an MRI and I want to shop around. I can go to Rochester Regional’s cost estimate page and press the get started button. That eventually takes you to a page that lists the services.

You probably know that every medical service or procedure has a CPT code. I always ask my doctor’s office for that code because it makes researching costs easier. But you can also search by procedure. When I choose my procedure it then takes me to a page that lists insurers in our region. When you plug in your insurer, it can give you information specific to your plan.

"The new and improved for 2021 was we’re required to provide tools in the file to help the patient get to ultimately the patient responsibility,” said Tammi Imm, a Rochester Regional Vice-President. “So it is a closer estimate to what the out of pocket cost will actually be for that patient for that procedure or those services."

You need to know your deductible, and whether you’ve met the deductible. But the new RRH tool gets you pretty close to actually knowing how much that scan is going to cost. URMC launched a similar tool in December.

But in an investigation I wrote for my Deanna’s Discoveries, I showed you that when you’re getting imaging, sometimes it pays to go to a freestanding imaging facility because they don’t have the overhead of hospitals.

In Rochester, our only stand-alone facility is Borg and Ide. If you call them and give them your insurance plan, they can tell you over the phone what your out-of-pocket expense will be. There are also several freestanding imaging facilities in Buffalo. Think about it. If that PET scan costs you $300 less if you drive an hour west, it might be worth the trip.

And here are other great research tools: Fair Health and Healthcare Bluebook. These sites will tell you what the average cost for your procedure in our area. Remember, we’re the consumers, and we should have the power to choose to pay less for our healthcare.