Resources for Reporting on Costs of Medical Interventions
(most of these have been provided by journalists who have used them)
Medical Treatments, Tests, Procedures
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AHRQ’s mission is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of health care.
Freedom of Information Act Requests:
- Nancy Comfort, (301) 427-1866
HCUP Facts and Figures 2008, provides highlights of the latest data from the 2008 Nationwide Inpatient Sample, a part of AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP). You can find, for example, average inpatient treatment costs for diagnoses ranging from liveborn birth ($2,700) and mood disorders ($5,100) to acute myocardial infarction ($18,800) and respiratory failure ($20,900). Note: When you can’t find answers at HCUP (or MEPS, below), contact the media office (above). They do a lot of data runs for the press but, it may take one or two days before you receive the information.
AHRQ’s 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) is a detailed source of information on health services, the frequency with which they are used, the cost of those services, and how they are paid. For example, on the AHRQ/MEPS website, you can find the mean expenses per person for more than 50 conditions treated in hospitals, physicians’ offices, or at home. For more information, go to http://www.meps.ahrq.gov/mepsweb/.
Trends in the Cost of Prescription Drugs
IMS Health. Press contact: Gary Gatyas, director, communications & public relations, 610-834-5338.
You could visit the website of big drug store retail operation such as Drugstore.com, CVS.com, GNC.com, etc. to get some sense of prices.
Trends in the Cost of Dietary Supplements
Nutrition Business Journal, or call 303-998-9398.
- Health care plans sometimes post costs for common procedures and/or diagnoses (e.g., an annual cost of diabetes care), and that info may be publicly available for reporters in some cases. But that doesn’t tell you comparative costs, or the potential costs associated with introducing a new product or service. You might be able to find cost-benefit and cost-efficiency studies that have been doing by looking on PubMed or Google. But new products and services will often not have such studies done yet. Stock analysts may be helpful in providing a ballpark estimate in such cases.
- Tip provided by one journalist: one of the best ways to find out what a particular service costs – or at least what the reimbursement is – is simply to ask the patients you interview to share the “explanation of benefits” statements that they get from their insurers. Obviously the amount varies by insurer and also by provider, so you can’t make global statements based on one patient’s EOB. But you can find out about a specific case and also get a ballpark. Also, if the patient signs a release, the insurance company may tell you what they paid for an episode of care (as opposed to individual services).
- In states with certificate of need requirements, or anything similar, the applications may require financial information that normally isn’t available. For example, one journalist was able to find out what a day in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) cost and the amount insurance pays for each day (considerably more than cost) on a hospital’s application to build a new NICU.
- HealthCareBlueBook.com: “The Healthcare Blue Book is a free consumer guide to help you determine fair prices in your area for healthcare services. It represents a payment amount that many high-quality providers accept from insurance companies as payment in full, and it is usually less than the stated “billed charges” amount.”
- hospital (surgical, nonsurgical)
- physician (hospital, labs, tests, mental health, office, surgery, procedures, treatment, x-rays, imaging)
- cosmetic medicine
- hearing aids
- Here’s a new one (added March 28, 2012): Modern Healthcare and ECRI Institute have introduced a new online Technology Price Index. While it’s intended to give
hospital leaders high-level pricing data on expensive and frequently purchased capital medical equipment and supplies, it may give journalists some context/inspiration for their stories.