P/>Getting a grip on what a specific procedure should cost is a challenge for medical consumers.Last year, Rice launched his site, as well as a customized application for employers, with that need in mind. It offers pricing data for health care services, allowing visitors to search by type of doctor, procedure, hospital and other criteria to find out what a fair price is in their area. The data is based on an average of the negotiated fees health plans pay to their network providers for a service in a specific market. "What most people don't know is if they need something simple, like an MRI or a colonoscopy, the in-network price that they will ultimately pay is going to vary by at least 300% and probably 500% or more," Rice says. "That MRI's price variation, on an in-network basis, could be $600 at one place, while the exact same test across the street could be $3,000 or more. There is a huge price variation among the in-network negotiations that you are ultimately going to pay if you are on a high-deductible plan." Those with insurance have somewhat limited bargaining power. Prices are negotiated between insurers and providers, and the highly regulated nature of the industry leads to little or no deal-making. "But what you can do is determine what a fair price is and go to a provider who charges that fair price," Rice says. "You can save $2,000 or $3,000 by changing buildings. Most patients do not have to change their doctor at all, but they do need to get their doctor to consider the cost of where they do their services." "The biggest thing is that patients have to feel absolutely comfortable asking their doctor about it," he adds. "It is completely appropriate and fair. Doctors want to help patients out. It doesn't do me any good to tell my patients to do this test or take this medicine if they can't afford it and they are not going to do it. You want to make sure your patients get the care they need and being cost effective is part of that." Those without insurance, especially if they can pay cash upfront, may be able to reduce their bill by as much as 50%. "You need to be willing to call around," Rice says. "It is a lot of work because it is not easy to get price quotes from hospitals. You will also have to call multiple places if you are going to have a procedure because you typically get three big bills -- one is the doctor, one is the anesthesiologist and the third is the facility." -- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.