CDHC and HSA are the acronyms of change in health care. Standing for “consumer-driven health care” and “health savings accounts,” they’re ushering in an era where consumers are responsible for choosing how to spend their health care dollars. The theory is that the more aware consumers are of costs and the more control they have over the expense, the less they’ll spend on medical care.

While that result remains to be seen, the products are here. More employees are getting familiar with HSAs, for instance—accounts where they can sock away tax-free contributions for medical expenses. “We’re asking employees to take stock in decisions they make on a daily basis,” says Donna Fink, manager of vendor relations for Allina Hospitals and Clinics.

But how do consumers, who need to make their HSA contributions stretch as far as possible, comparison shop for health care? They must consider the cost of office visits, tests, procedures, surgeries, prescription drugs, and more, and they have to balance quality concerns with cost issues.

For starters, a law passed in 2004 requires Minnesota physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers to provide consumers with a good-faith estimate of the reimbursement amount providers expect to receive from the patient’s health plan for their charges. Consult your provider(s) for more information. However, the law does not establish a timeline for reply and does not apply to people on state programs such as MinnesotaCare.

For quality and cost comparisons, here are some online resources that are starting to emerge.

 

Minnesota Community Measurement 
Provides information on the quality of clinical care throughout Minnesota and comparative  quality data about the state’s provider groups. It assists consumers and employers in making informed decisions. Comparisons are available for asthma, children’s health, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and women’s health.

HealthFront
Take an online survey put together by this Bloomington-based nonprofit group about the care you or a family member have received for   general and preventive health, pediatric and adult asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Accumulated responses enable consumers to make comparisons among clinics, networks, and care systems.

Minnesota Health Information
Visit interactive calculators created by HealthPartners, SmartMoney, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the National Committee for Quality Assurance to estimate your health costs based on age, gender, and health condition; compare out-of-pocket expenses between health plans; calculate prescription drug expenses under the new Medicare law; and assess plans’ effects on productivity.

Compare Your Care
An online survey designed to help consumers assess their care, developed by Colorado-based HealthGrades, a quality ratings and services company. HealthGrades also offers hospital report cards and quality reports for nursing homes and physicians, using outcome data compiled from independent public and private sources.

Leapfrog Group
Check this Web site to find out how your hospital rates in four areas of recommended patient safety practices. The Leapfrog Group is a Washington, D.C.–based coalition of health care–buying organizations that works to improve health care quality and affordability.

Medicare
Medicare recipients should check this federal clearinghouse to compare Medicare prescription drug plans, health plan options, and nursing homes. Prescription drug cost comparisons.

Walgreens
Compare drug prices and find out whether your brand-name prescription is available as a generic.

PharmacyChecker
Compare not only drug prices but also ratings of online pharmacies. The New York– based company that offers this Web site also provides customized reports about the online pharmacy industry, and offers a free newsletter to subscribers.

PillBot
Check this drug-cost comparison site offered by New York–based online generic drug pharmacy pbrx.com.

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