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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Healthcare Prices Uncensored: The Shift Towards Price Transparency

The United States has higher costs of healthcare when compared to most other developed nations; however, these prices are not necessarily linked to quality care. With the current structure of U.S. healthcare pricing today, patients have little access to information about medical prices—or quality—prior to undergoing a procedure. And unfortunately, preliminarily obtaining this information is nearly impossible, ruling out any chance of comparison-shopping between hospitals or physicians, as well as the ability for patients to make informed decisions before being hit with a medical bill.

The typical price disparities among hospitals—even those relatively close in distance from one another—can average more than 200% in inflated costs, with little relationship to differences in quality . This remains true even within most preferred provider organization insurance networks. According to a recent TIME cover article by Steven Brill titled “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us,” many stakeholders in the health care system profit from concealed price and quality information, including poor-performing and high-priced insurers, providers, and suppliers. They fear (and correctly) that if patients had better access to price and quality differences between the providers available to them, it will likely determine where they seek healthcare services.

While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made significant—albeit preliminary efforts—to collect and disseminate price and quality, more action is needed to ensure these actions are enforced.

Many companies and organizations are creating their own ideas to improve price transparency among consumers. The Annals of Internal Medicine, a publication of the American College of Physicians, for instance, featured an article by Robert Kocher, M.D. and Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D, who actively propose the “transparency imperative.” This initiative, which is part of the foundation for a post-ACA healthcare system that achieves better quality and cost control, suggests that all data on price, utilization, and quality of healthcare be made available to the public unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.

Specifically where dental care is concerned, Brighter.com, a simple and free alternative to dental insurance, is also making strides to ensure that all dental procedures are transparent to its members before they book an appointment through its online platform. The Brighter.com service, which provides its dental savings (averaging around 50%) to both insured and uninsured users, also allows its members to comparison-shop for a dentist (also categorized by their Yelp reviews) in and around their area with a satisfaction guarantee. Understanding that price transparency is merely the first step in transforming healthcare, Brighter.com also offers its members negotiated prices with its dentists, adding yet another layer to assist consumer’s in making educated healthcare decisions, while saving them money.

Out are the days of concealed medical prices, and in are the times of paying for quality healthcare. While most of the ACA has already been enacted, we anticipate that 2014 will continue to bring improvements in the transparency of medical costs, which will subsequently leave patients in the drivers seat of their healthcare decisions, and back in control of their wallets.

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To learn more about Brighter.com or how to sign up for our free membership, visit www.brighter.com or call 1.888.230.4717.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Founding Story

This post features Jake Winebaum, Founder & CEO of Brighter.com, sharing Brighter's story. Follow him on Twitter: @jakewinebaum

I was having dinner with my in-laws and, as they typically do, the conversation turned to health and money within fifteen minutes.  My father-in-law, Sol, had just come back from the dentist and was told he needed $7,000 worth of dental work.

I said, “Doesn’t your insurance cover that?”

He said, “No, I don’t have dental insurance.  Medicare doesn’t cover dental and dental insurance is way too expensive.”

I then asked, “Well, did you ask the dentist for a better price?

And he said, “Who negotiates with their dentist?   A price is price.”

I said, “Did you look online to see if it was at least a fair price.”

Annoyed with the conversation, he said, “Why don’t you look.  You’re the Internet guy.”

And so I did.

So I searched on the Internet and grew frustrated.  First, I could find little or no pricing information on dental procedures. Second, I found that Sol was not alone in not having dental insurance.  All seniors were in the same boat and further, I found that 50% of Americans lacked dental insurance and were purchasing their care, like Sol, without the benefit of any price transparency or negotiating leverage. .  Retirees, students, small business employees, unemployed and increasingly employees of big companies that were forced to cut back on benefits due to escalating general health care costs.  I also found it very hard to get any reputational information on dentists.  The best I could find was phone numbers and addresses and some generic information on office hours.

I dug a little deeper and found that Americans spend close to $50 billion a year out-of-pocket on their dental care and they do so with no idea of what dental procedures should cost them until they are sitting in the dentists chair.

As an entrepreneur, I saw a big opportunity in providing the kind of price and reputational transparency that now exists in many other consumer markets such as automotive and travel.  Why shouldn’t a prospective patient be able to know who the best dentists were in their area and what the lowest prices were available.  From this the idea for Brighter was born.

A service that could leverage the buying power of this large and growing group of uninsured patients to negotiate affordable prices and an online and mobile service that completely changed the way people purchased and accessed their dental care.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Savings to smile about

Brighter, a simple, free alternative to dental insurance, offers the following recommendations to anyone looking for quality dental care without breaking the bank:

Pic 1You can't maximize your savings on something unless you understand what it actually costs to begin with. You can either start by calling your local dentists for quotes or look online for estimates of what your local dentists charge. (You can utilize Brighter.com to see the average costs of any dental service in your city.)



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Yes dentists are healthcare providers, but they are also small business owners themselves and most of them are very open to "give to get" opportunities like any other smart businessperson. If you can pay cash, bring your entire family to the same dentist (group strength), prove to be a loyal patient, or have a flexible schedule that enables you to take less optimal appointment times - each of these are very valuable to a dentist. Bring these to their attention and many dentists will provide you with a ~5% discount.



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Quality dentists only want the best for you, but that often results in their recommendations of services that have correspondingly higher price tags. If their initial treatment plan is too much of a financial stretch for you at this time, it's always better to get some treatment than none at all, so ask your dentist about alternatives. For example, maybe they can try a basic filling on a tooth before a crown, or maybe they can use a less expensive laboratory for the materials your treatment requires. When these types of options are available to you, the savings can be in the hundreds to thousands of dollars.



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Unlike many medical conditions, dental needs are often non-emergencies so you can comfortably take some time to strategize your way to lower out-of-pocket costs. Ask your dentist how quickly you need the recommended treatment before it will become worse and-- especially in the 2nd half of the calendar year--you can often "time" your appointments to maximize other benefits. For example, if you do not have a Flexible Savings Account (FSA) (or another tax advantaged health savings account), you can push your appointment to January and open one before that so you're paying the dentist with pre-tax dollars. If you have a dental insurance plan with extensive exclusions and limitations (most of them do), it's often better to spread out appointments to the next calendar year to maximize how much your plan will pay.



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You probably can't go more than a week without finding "New Patient Specials" in your mailbox from local dentists. These can be a great way to save on preventive care and sometimes cometic services too. But be weary of relying on these too heavily as it will require you to see new dentists each time and gives you no price protection should you require additional services - you will also want to do secondary research on the quality of the dentist you're considering.



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The best way to spend less money at the dentist is to see him/her more often! I know that sounds counterintuitive, but its true. When you stay on schedule with your six-month checkups not only is each visit less extensive (your exam is actually quicker), but it's also the best way to guarantee that dental problems do not arise requiring more expensive services down the road.  Clinical studies show that when you skip your regular exams your likelihood of developing gum disease or other expensive conditions increases 75%.



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Students at your local dental schools need many hours of supervised experience before that can get licensed. If you're willing to give these aspiring dentists your services, you can often get free to low-cost care from them. The American Dental Association's website can help you lookup dental schools near you.



pic 8Many dentists participate in dental savings plans that provide discounts of 20 - 50% off their usual fees, these are win-win solutions for patients and dentists alike as they enable patients to save on needed care while providing the dentist with more patients. While Brighter.com is the only free version of this concept (available right now in Los Angeles) there are many companies that offer them in other parts of the country in exchange for an average of $100 in annual membership fees.

For more information on Brighter.com and our free membership, visit www.brighter.com or call 1.888.230.4717.