Medical cost consumerism: Making buyers beware

NH Department of Insurance updates health cost website.

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CONCORD, NH –  For contemplating purchases large and small, most consumers can go online and within seconds can learn about an item’s quality and cost and even read reviews from previous buyers. Armed with this information, buyers-to-be can then make more informed decisions and hopefully wiser use of their hard-earned dollars.

However, until the past decade or so, cost details on health care – something which consumes about a quarter of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – remained largely hidden from view.

To give prospective health care purchasers a leg up when it comes to health care spending, the NH Insurance Department (NHID) first offered a cost review tool about 10 years ago. Based on claims data, it provided consumers with some baseline info on costs – like an MRI provided in one facility versus another. In 2015, the site underwent significant upgrades and in 2017, features were added for small and large employers. Earlier this year, a feature was added to enable site users to view quality measures and, in late July, NHID announced a partnership with Harvard Medical School to help make it easier for consumers to find medical cost estimates. The partnership includes a study funded by the Donoghue Foundation to develop a Google Adwords campaign that will create additional website traffic to NHHealthcost.org.

“NH Healthcost empowers New Hampshire residents with actionable health care cost information before they go see a doctor or health care provider,” said New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner John Elias, in announcing the collaboration with Harvard Medical School.

Maureen Mustard, NH Insurance Department Director of Health Care Analytics. Photo/Chris Dugan

To get a bird’s eye view of the cost tool, Medical Matters sat down earlier this summer with NHID’s Maureen Mustard and Eireann Aspell to discuss the site and what it means for the user.

Mustard, who serves as the Department Director of Health Care Analytics, said the cost tool has gotten good reviews from patients and even some providers. “Some of the primary care doctors we’ve talked to are quite happy with the tool,” she said. “It helps their patients better understand the cost of a treatment the doctor might be ordering.” She added that the site is mobile friendly, so that the patient could literally look up the cost of a prospective procedure or diagnostic test on their smart phone while still in their doctor’s office.

Mustard, who joined the Department three years ago, said that NHHealthCost.org uses anonymous claims data gathered from insurance carriers to show estimated costs for both insured and un-insured patients. The site includes over 100 medical services as well as many dental procedures. Information on quality comes from a number of sources including “the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Joint Commission,” according to a recent news release. The release also notes that “The Employer Resources’ health plan comparisons are based on well-respected national organizations including the National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA).”

Aspell serves as the Department’s Outreach Coordinator and works to promote the effort with key stakeholders across the state. This includes health care providers, elected officials, business organizations and employers. She notes the Department also worked to inform and educate health care navigators and hospital intake staff as each often helps people enroll in coverage.

With consumers being asked to foot more of their health care these days, the site is getting a fair amount of traffic. Mustard stated that in a given month, the site will get as many as 10,000 unique visits. She says that one future goal of the project will be to add more procedures. There is also a space on the site where users can reach out to the Department with questions and comments which she says may very well form the basis for additional updates in the future.

“People are having higher and higher premiums and higher out of pocket max,” said Mustard. “So, they’re definitely paying attention to cost.”

In addition to providing the details on costs and quality, Aspell said the Department is keenly aware of the need to understand and, if needed, improve the user experience. The Department consultants working on the site even had consumers of different ages and backgrounds navigate the site during a test phase. “As a result of that (feedback), we made some page changes,” she notes.

Both Mustard and Aspell noted that the site is fluid and updated quarterly. For ease of viewing, one can view cost and quality measures per provider on the same screen and compare the cost for someone with or without health insurance. It also includes a guide to health insurance.

“It’s exciting to be able to provide information to consumers that they desperately want and is easier to use,” said Mustard.

The New Hampshire Insurance Department’s mission is to promote and protect the public good by ensuring the existence of a safe and competitive insurance marketplace through the development and enforcement of the insurance laws of the State of New Hampshire. For more information, visit www.nh.gov/insurance.


To view learn more about NH HealthCost, please visit www.nhhealthcost.nh.gov.


Chris Dugan is Principal at Dugan PR, where he provides strategic communications, public relations and marketing/communications support to a broad range of non-profit and for-profit clients across New Hampshire. Prior to starting his consulting practice, Chris held senior leadership communications roles at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Lung Association of NH, Optima Health and St. Joseph Hospital. A New Hampshire native, Chris is an active community volunteer and is a member of the Queen City Rotary Club, where he chairs the Marketing/Public Relations Committee. He has been recognized by the American Academy for Health Services Marketing and the NewEngland Society for Health Care Communications. He is a graduate of Leadership Greater Manchester and Leadership Greater Nashua. Got a scoop? Email Chris at chrisdugan@manchesterinklink.com.