How Useful Is Healthcare Blue Book?

September 16, 2010
Jill taylor

Is Healthcare Blue Book looking out for the interests of patients, or is it just another company trying to grab a piece of the healthcare pie?

Angie’s List recently announced a new partnership with Healthcare Blue Book that will provide its customers with a way to more accurately evaluate what they are paying for healthcare services.

Medicine is being pulled ever deeper into the age of online shopping, particularly in cases where patients pay out-of-pocket. I know of several services that provide a forum for patients to review and evaluate physician care, but I haven’t heard of any services that offer healthcare price information. I find the idea of an online community that contributes pricing information very plausible. The thing is, Healthcare Blue Book doesn’t provide price comparisons; it supposedly tells you the “fair price” (ie, what insurance companies pay for the same medical services).

It sounds useful, doesn’t it? In an age in which hospitals are charging several dollars for a Band-Aid strip, it makes sense for consumers to try to save every little bit that they can. Healthcare Blue Book lays the groundwork for fee negotiation. And even better yet, it’s a free online service — people have ready access to it whether they subscribe to Angie’s List or not.

However, I’m a cynic and I wanted to know more about a supposedly altruistic organization that isn’t nonprofit. When I looked for the money behind the company, I found out that not only is the company privately held, but it also will not disclose its business partners. I also noticed that Blue Book provides fairly generic information and includes information about a bunch of procedures that most insurance plans do not cover. Plus, I haven’t heard physicians kicking and screaming. Why? Well, maybe one of the reasons is that, according to the Dallas News, Healthcare Blue Book helps match physicians with patients who are willing to pony up cash for services. Sure, the physicians might collect a little less per procedure, but in exchange, they save themselves the cost of paperwork and headaches.

Okay, so maybe physicians will buy into it. Maybe insurance companies will, too. Check out this MarketWatch article with a link to a webinar featuring experts from both Healthcare Blue Book and eHealthInsurance. Know what else Healthcare Blue Book offers? A free pharmacy discount card. Hmmm….

I don’t know. Is this an innovative IT solution designed to provide “fair, upfront pricing” and transparency in healthcare services, or is it just another company trying to get a piece of the pie that sits on the table between the physician and the patient?