Impatient | Helping make the health care system work for you

It's time to 'Just Ask' about the cost of your care

Ricardo Reitmeyer/

You get an estimate before you agree to any car repairs. You know what a dish costs before you order it off a menu.

But when it comes to health care, it's extremely difficult to find out in advance what a test or procedure will cost.

Why do we pay for health care differently from virtually every other service or product?

The reasons are many and varied; it all starts with our byzantine insurance-based health economy, in which we pay these mostly for-profit firms to provide us access to medical care. Meanwhile, the insurers are using complex actuarial analysis to set premiums, deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance.  Hospitals have their own inscrutable methods for setting how much they will charge for various services and procedures. Then there are the secret haggling sessions between insurers and hospitals. And we've got the government-funded Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) programs.

By the time you sit down with your doctor, she has no more idea than you what your insurance company will pay for a drug or procedure or how much of the bill will be passed on to you.  

Here at Impatient, we think it's wrong that the health consumer is often left in the dark.

If you've received a surprise medical bill, you'll agree that it's maddening that there isn't a better way for us to know - or even estimate - our medical costs in advance. This has become especially frustrating as more and more people enroll in plans with deductibles so high that they can't afford to use them.

So we're launching an initiative designed to make it easier to talk about health care costs.

Just Ask

We actually started this effort last summer when we launched #PriceCheck. Through this project, a collaboration with our friends at KQED and, we're crowdsourcing the costs of certain medical procedures. PriceCheck aims to shine a light on the varied - and sometimes outrageous - prices that different facilities charge for common procedures and the prices that insurance companies eventually agree to.

Now we're moving on to the next step of this journey: Along with PriceCheck, we want to give you the tools you need to cut through the veil of secrecy that too often surrounds the prices of health care services. We want to empower you to learn about the cost of your health care - before that surprise bill arrives in the mail.

It's all part of another collaboration with KQED that we're calling Just Ask. I've already started tackling this topic here on the blog and on Take Two; we're excited to more formally launch the project today on AirTalk.

Tips, advice, resources

As part of Just Ask, you can expect tips from experts on how to discuss medical costs with your doctor and shop around for affordable, high-quality care.

I've already offered tips from a health care economist, patient advocates and cost-conscious doctors. I've also explored why doctors haven't traditionally considered costs and cutting-edge efforts to lower health care costs across the board.

You can also count on me to curate great articles and helpful resources on the topics of health care costs and their impact on consumers. I'm tracking these issues closely, so I'll point to these types of stories in blog posts and on Twitter, using the hashtag #JustAsk.

In return, I'm hoping I can count on you to join this discussion.

I want to hear about your experiences navigating the murky thicket of health care costs. If you have specific questions about how to shop for high-quality, affordable care, let me know and I'll try to find answers for you. If you have tips for other cost-conscious consumers, please share them with our growing community! We want to hear from health care providers as well as consumers. 

I think we can all agree that the way we deal with health care costs now isn't working. So isn't it time that we try something different - and just ask what our care might cost?