Are You Seeing Greater Consumer Scrutiny of Healthcare Prices? You Will

April 24, 2014
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eye drops 3More and more, I hear from healthcare colleagues that the number of consumers inquiring about healthcare prices is increasing. Some just want to know what a specific procedure or drug will cost. Others want to understand their out-of-pocket contributions.

eye drops 3More and more, I hear from healthcare colleagues that the number of consumers inquiring about healthcare prices is increasing. Some just want to know what a specific procedure or drug will cost. Others want to understand their out-of-pocket contributions. And many, many more complain about prices and pricing structures that, quite frankly, just don’t make sense.

It’s ironic that I ran across this Huffington Post article – More Proof that American Health Care Prices are Sky High – just when my husband called to let me know that the price of the eye drops prescription I had asked him to pick up was $208.00. Our health insurance company wanted to consult with the provider about alternatives before approving and paying for the script. It was 7:30 in the evening and the doctor’s office was closed – meanwhile my eyes are nearly swollen shut from the overabundance of pollen we’re experiencing this year. So we shelled out the $208 and will spend the next few days making multiple phone calls to try and align this patient’s needs with the doctor’s recommendations and the insurance company’s procedures.

I was curious about the cost of the drug when I read this blog post regarding the latest data from the International Federation of Health Plans, an industry group representing health insurers from 28 countries including the United States. The author’s point is that American patients pay the highest prices in the world for a variety of prescription drugs and common medical procedures.

So I looked up pricing for the eye drops on drug retailer websites from several countries, including the UK and Canada, and found that prices for the very same prescription (brand name, strength, dosage, etc.) to be significantly less – around $40 (with free shipping). That’s about $8 per ml, whereas we paid $41.60 per ml. I’m talking about a bottle of eye drops that barely stands 1½ inches high. My pharmacy has some explaining to do.

In fact, all of us who work in this industry have some explaining to do – about how prices are established, why there is so much variation across providers, products and services, why it cost so darn much. As healthcare marketers, we’re removed from pricing decisions, which are core to branding, positioning and marketing strategies for both wholesale (contracting) and retail (out of pocket) relationships.

Personally, I hope we see consumers ask more questions – and demand more answers – about the price of healthcare services and goods. And I hope we as an industry will have good answers.

It’s time to bring pricing into public view.