Maine launches price transparency website

Maine is the latest state to introduce a healthcare price transparency website, although like most efforts elsewhere, it is fairly limited in scope.

The website, CompareMaine.org, was funded by a $3.7 million federal grant, the Portland Press Herald has reported.

"People want to know what their options are. It's one tool in the toolbox, and it will allow patients to have informed discussions with their doctors," Karynlee Harrington, executive director of the Maine Health Data Organization, which created the website, told the Press Herald.

Althoug there has been recent progress in price transparency, the website's launched at the same time as many U.S. states receive failing grades for price transparency.

However, like many other state-operated healthcare price websites, the data that Maine offers is relatively minimal. A preventive care visit for a new patient averages $183, according to the website. And while it provides a range of prices for the service to be delivered at a hospital or medical practice, it does not provide any information as to whether the cost is covered by specific insurers. And there is no data for most major surgeries, such as a joint replacement, spinal fusion or a heart bypass procedure, or any supplementary costs, such as the cost of anesthesiology services.

By contrast is a recent pricing website launched in California. Unlike Maine, it mostly focuses on the out-of-pocket costs for those patients who have insurance, and also contains many gaps that make it far from a comprehensive healthcare pricing mechanism.

Moreover, questions have been raised as to whether shopping for healthcare services by price makes clinical or logistical sense.

The wide range of prices for specific services in Maine is also visible. For example, the cost for a simple blood test for electrolytes range from $11 at a standalone laboratory to $111 at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, Maine. Quality ratings accompany most of the cost data.

To learn more:
- read the Press-Herald article 
- visit the CompareMaine.org website

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