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Medical Cost Transparency

Starting Monday, you can go to HealthGrades (HGRD) to order reports detailing the average "list prices," health-plan payments and out-of-pocket costs for all expenses related to a variety of common medical procedures, including hospital, physician, drug and laboratory fees. The new service is called HealthGrades HealthGuide.

What's so important about that, you ask?

Well, can you imagine buying a new car without any idea of the price you should pay? Few, if any, buyers pay the "sticker price" on the window. With today's technology and online comparison tools, it's easy to negotiate a better deal for the car you want.

But when it comes to health care and hospitalization, we just accept the bill that is presented to us -- in effect, paying the "sticker" price.

If you need to go to the hospital for treatment or surgery, you probably never ask about the costs. Why should you care? Your health insurance will take care of most of those huge bills, except for your deductible and copayments. And even those copayments have a maximum limit. If you are covered by employer-provided health care, the cost of a hospital stay is usually the last thing on your mind.

The same holds true for seniors, who can rely on Medicare to cover the huge costs of hospitalization, especially if they have purchased a policy that expands on the basic Medicare Part A. And if you qualify for state Medicaid programs by virtue of your low income and assets, you have access to the same high-quality hospitalization treatment. Once again, there's very little incentive to care about costs.

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