UnitedHealthcare Provides Advance Info On Healthcare Costs - InformationWeek

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Healthcare // Patient Tools

UnitedHealthcare Provides Advance Info On Healthcare Costs

Treatment Cost Estimator tool has pricing on 500 medical services and 90 surgeries so consumers know costs in advance of treatment.

As the healthcare landscape promises to become increasingly competitive for health insurance companies, UnitedHealthcare announced new features making it easier for customers to pay bills and calculate medical costs.

UnitedHealthcare, a division of UnitedHealth Group, has improved its Treatment Cost Estimator application. The new feature provides physician-specific pricing in more than 400 markets, and information on 116 diseases, 90 surgeries and procedures, and more than 500 individual services. It also incorporates UnitedHealthcare customers' specific health plan information to estimate what the patient will be responsible for paying.

The insurer also added a new "bill pay" feature to its Quicken Health Expense Tracker application that lets customers pay medical expenses online using credit and debit cards, or a qualified healthcare account. The Quicken tool also translates medical terminology into layman's language.

One of the biggest transformations to hit healthcare over the last decade has been the drive to help customers become more involved with their healthcare decisions, which has at times been difficult for them in a changing environment, said Meredith Baratz, VP of market solutions for UnitedHealthcare's product and innovation group.

"Our principle hope is that we take some of the confusion and surprise out of the experience. The American public by and large doesn't really have an appreciation or understanding for the actual cost of medical care," Baratz said.

Often people will have an experience with the health system, get a bill and then realize that they are completely unprepared conceptually for the costs, Baratz said. The new tool lets customers know in advance what their bill will be and how much their benefits package will cover, she said.

As the new healthcare law begins to impact the insurance industry and as insurance companies compete for the 32 million uninsured customers who now have a chance to acquire health insurance under the law, Baratz said her company is preparing for the changes to come.

"As we move into a new environment defined through the reform legislation, people will be even more heavily engaged in making decisions about who the carrier is, and to the extent that we can make the experience a more positive one by sharing information to help them make better decisions, we think that works for everybody," Baratz said.

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