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I am a huge fan of consumer driven market solutions for reforming our health care system. As a consumer advocate, I am heading up a grassroots initiative that uses social networking to help consumers find the best value for routine health care services. The website, OutOfPocket.com, includes a directory of true prices for common health care services based on actual visits by individual consumers. The contents of the directory are contributed by consumers to share with other consumers. The website invites everyone to contribute, including the insured and insured, by anonymously posting prices they paid for routine health care services (such as MRIs, mammograms, x-rays, CT scans, vaccinations, office visits, dental and vision), along with their personal recommendations on the provider. The inspiration for OutOfPocket.com started with a personal experience. Several years ago, I was trying to determine what my out of pocket cost would be for an MRI with a high-deductible health insurance plan. Since my deductible was not met, I knew that I was responsible for 100% of the MRI cost. After searching through my insurance plan’s website to find the best value, calling the plan’s toll-free number, networking with friends, and eventually calling local providers to ask about pricing, I concluded it was impossible to determine the price of the MRI in advance. The only way to find out the price was to go ahead and have the MRI and wait for the bill to find out what I am being charged for the service. This was unacceptable. Something needed to be done. If insurance companies and providers cannot or will not provide consumers with meaningful price data, how can we be cost-conscious consumers and make the most out of our health care dollars if we do not have the tools to help us shop for the best price and quality? This grassroots initiative is something that could be accomplished immediately without waiting for legislation to pass, complicated programs to be initiated, or wait for the country to decide how to reform our health care system. The site was launched last month and everyone is encouraged to participate. If OutOfPocket.com achieves critical mass, and enough consumers participate to share prices – consumers will have collectively created a powerful tool to help make informed healthcare purchasing decisions. Everyone benefits by exposing health care prices. Consumers save money by shopping for the best value and eliminating wasteful spending on unnecessary procedures and overpriced services. Competition and choice drive down prices, improve services, spark innovation, increase patient care and improve quality. Be sure to check out OutOfPocket.com and be sure to tell others about this consumer initiative.

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