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With high-deductible health plans come demands for price transparency

In 2006, just 4 percent of employees had a high-deductible plan and savings account; in 2013, one in five workers chose this option, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Images Money/Flickr

As KPCC health correspondent Stephanie O'Neill reported last week, it's open enrollment season for the more than 150 million Americans with job-based health insurance.

That's certainly the case here at Southern California Public Radio. On Friday, I attended a benefits meeting, where I learned the specifics of our health plan options.

As a young, healthy person with few medical issues, I'll probably stick with a high-deductible plan – with a health savings account to hopefully cover my deductible. (What's a high-deductible plan? Check out O'Neill's handy health insurance glossary.)

Apparently, I'm in good company. In 2006, just 4 percent of employees had a high-deductible plan and savings account; in 2013, one in five workers chose this option, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The increase in high-deductible plans is reverberating across the healthcare industry, according to this interesting article in the Harvard Business Review by Leah Binder, president and CEO of the Leapfrog Group.

One result of the uptick in high-deductible plans? Binder says people are running up bigger hospital bills, in part because they can't afford to pay their full deductibles.

A new emphasis on price transparency?

There's a silver lining to that hospital debt, Binder writes: With more people on the hook for paying a chunk of their medical bills, consumers will have to become more price conscious. That means, she says, that people will start to question "the expensive inefficiencies that are rampant in health care, and will not tolerate absurdly opaque and confusing hospital bills for much longer."

The new interest in price transparency also has implications for health facilities and employers, she writes.

As more people shop around for medical care, argues Binder, health systems and facilities will have to be more transparent about the price and quality of their services. Employers, she says, will "need to adopt innovative strategies that empower workers to use information about price and quality to safely navigate the health system."

Checking prices in SoCal

If you have a high-deductible plan, and are new to shopping around for health care, take a look at PriceCheck. Through this database, which we developed with KQED and ClearHealthCosts.com, you can see what medical procedures cost in your community, and share your own medical costs.

Are you considering a high-deductible health plan? Share your questions and comments about these plans in the comments section below, or via e-mail at Impatient@scpr.org.