High Quality, Low Cost HealthCare Video Interview Series: Martha Bebinger and HealthCareSavvy

5 Mins read









Last week we listened to James Spearman talk about Medical Tourism in the US.  This week, we visit with Martha Bebinger, a reporter from Boston’s NPR news station, WBUR.  Martha reports on healthcare news for WBUR and is also the creator of HealthCareSavvy, WBUR’s online community where patients learn to shop for healthcare.  HealthCareSavvy offers resources to help people learn how to shop for providers, insurance and medical procedures.  It also includes a blog where patients can “tell their story” about their experience in shopping for healthcare.  See Martha’s post on “Good” colonoscopies here.  And please visit the site – it’s a wealth of information!

And now, watch the video!

To see other videos in this series, please go to this page.  And if you have a story to tell that can reduce healthcare costs and raise quality of care, please comment below or email me at  Thanks!

Video transcript (by TranscriptionStar)

Joan:  Hi.  I’m Joan Justice with HealthWorks Collective and I’m here with Martha Bebinger from WBUR in Boston which is Boston’s NPR News Station.  Martha covers healthcare news for WBUR and she’s also the creator of which is WBUR’s community of patients that are starting to shop for healthcare. Martha, tell us how you got started with Healthcare Savvy what your mission and how you’re helping patients shop for care?


Martha:  Well, Joan first of all thank you so much for paying some attention to the side and for giving me this opportunity to talk about it.  Its very kind and I appreciate all the work that you’re doing in this regard.  So in Massachusetts we’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to bend the cost curve in the parlance of the industry language.


But while patients are really at the center of that project there’s a lot of confusing information and very little guidance for them about how to be active participants.  So for example in Massachusetts we have insurance products that charge you more to go to a higher price lower quality hospital, but its almost impossible to find the information you need to understand what hospital is in that category and why. 


So Healthcare Savvy is an attempt to create the water cooler conversation for patients about all of the conflicting information and confusing decisions that they’re having to make in this realm right now.  It offers some resources for places where you can get some price information although it is still hard to find.  It offers some guidance, a little bit of how to have a conversation with your doctor about these things, and it offers a place for patients to share stories because really my feeling is it we’re all going to learn from each other about whatever this duel phase [Phonetic] [0:02:05] in healthcare is going to look like.


As an example we had stories from patients who scheduled their dental care in increments so that it would be covered by their plan at different years, did research on the level of anesthesia they would need to actually get the room [Indiscernible] [0:02:23] without too much pain realizing that the charge for a lot of anesthesia is a lot more than the charge for less anesthesia.  We had patients who call up and try to find the prices for different services and her son that in Massachusetts the price can vary three, four or five times.  You don’t know that upfront usually, and that price is often, very often not tied to quality.


Joan:  Right.


Martha:  So patients are starting to experiment and make some forays into this world of how healthcare is priced and what the price is all about, but its hard to do and so sharing their experiences on the side I think is very helpful.  We have people who shop for insurance and explain how that decision rolls out for them like what is it mean to have a higher deductible and lower deductible.  What are the trade-offs that you’re making there?  These are questions that people wrestle with all the time and particularly now in this open enrollment period so its very helpful I think for people to have a place to come and have a conversation about that.


I might just say one of the thing about why I started the site which is that I’m a reporter.  I’m in a reporter to the time and the media is changing a lot when we’re trying to find the place where the traditional media reporters and they kind of citizen [Indiscernible] [0:03:48] are coming together and Healthcare Savvy is a way for me to try to understand that, to try to figure that out how to work with people who are usually the subjects of my stories, but now who are becoming the drivers of the stories at the same time, and so I’m really — I’m having a great time trying to understand what the new world of journalism might look like through this side as well as what the new world of healthcare might look like so what kind of reaction are we having. 


We’re having — we’re hearing from a lot of doctors and patients who think that the — this kind of place to have a conversation is very helpful, quite candidly I’m getting a lot of mark, post from marketers I think who are trying to make their pitch to patients about how to deal with insurance exchanges, how to deal with Medicaid and Medicare billing fraud.  Medicare as you know is a very politicked subject right now, so we have people who are writing about how to choose a Part D plan or other things from many different sides of the political arena. 


The reason, I think it is still hard for people to sit down and write better, talk about healthcare and so that’s reflected to some degree in the fact that we have no readers and writers, and what we’re getting from people who are ready to write people who were writing.  So now I’m trying to get people into the — I’m trying to help people get to the point where they feel okay some sort of health literacy that they feel that they have the tools and the ability to even not just we even try to understand their health insurance policies, but then to write about us, so that’s really the next challenge.


Joan:  Yeah that’s a big one and health literacy is certainly a huge important topic yes.


Martha:  Right yeah.


Joan:  I’m very much into that, but I think your site is great and I think the Share your Story part is great, and I urge our readers to go to the site and take a look because people are intimidated about asking their doctor how much something is and often times the doctors don’t know, and then its another — and that brings another whole topic up so.


Martha:  Particularly the Neel Shah post.


Joan:  Yes.  Well, Martha its certainly a great site and it’s a great step forward in the journey towards cost transparency and price reduction in healthcare, so thank you so much for bringing your site to our attention.


Martha:  Thanks again for your interest.


Joan:  Yeah. 

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