Utah lawmaker hopes to motivate people to shop around for medical care

Utah lawmaker hopes to motivate people to shop around for medical care (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) When shopping for groceries, we consider the price. When we shop for cars, we consider the price. But when we shop for medical care, we often don't consider the price. Why would we? Our health insurance company is going to cover most of the costs, right?

It's a fact that has contributed to skyrocketing healthcare costs in the United States. Right now, healthcare here is about twice as much as it is in the rest of the developed world.

But Representative Norm Thurston has an idea. It's and idea that, if he's right, could slash healthcare costs. He's sponsoring a bill that would motivate public employees in Utah to shop around. The bill would require PEHP, Utah's Public Employee Health Plan, to pass half of whatever a consumer saves back to them.

So, for example, say you need a medical proceedure. One doctor wants to charge $500 to perform it. Another wants to charge $100 for the same procedure. If you pick the doctor who only charges $100, you save the insurance company about $400. Under the bill, the insurance company would send $200 of that savings on to you.

“It’s empowering this army of consumers that are out there,” Thurston says.

Thurston, who also works at the state health department, says he recognizes that healthcare is more than just dollars and cents.

"It's not always necessarily about the prices. It's about getting great care at a lower price."

Still, folks Get Gephardt talked to seem intrigued by the idea.

"I think it's a great law,” said Sona Shmidt-Harris. “There are some people who are very good at that sort of thing and they'll invest the time and energy to do it."

"You're always shopping around,” says Stephen Chai, “If you're the one that's shopping and they're getting the savings then I'm not incentivized to shop around."

"I would definitely take some time to look around and save some cash,” says Lucas Ackley.

Thurston says that the law would only force PEHP to share the savings, not the private insurance companies, but he hopes others would follow since “it's a win, win," for both the insurance company and the patient.

UPDATE: HB 19 flew through the House on day 1 of the legislative session, passing with a vote of 51-22-2.

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