Online service allows providers to auction care to patients

Although some healthcare organizations now post some of their prices, patients often struggle to get accurate pricing for medical procedures. But a new eBay-like service could resolve that in short order, the Washington Post reports.

Medibid, a service that allows patients to bid on medical services, was able to secure uninsured Seattle resident Francisco Velazco a knee-replacement surgery in Charlottesville, North Carolina, for $7,500, including all ancillary charges such as anesthesia, according to the Post. Velazco also entertained bids from providers in California and Virginia before going with the lowest price.

Under the Medibid system, would-be patients pay $25 to place a bid for medical services, while doctors pay $50 to $250 to provide an offer for services. About 6,000 doctors, some surgery centers and a small number of hospitals compete on the Medibid website for patients. One of the most prominent is the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, which is one of the most visible providers in terms of posting full-freight prices for care. Its practices have forced hospitals in the Oklahoma City area to reduce their prices due to competitive pressures.

Medibid founder Ralph Weber said his company strips away the layers of opacity that are native to healthcare pricing, even in arenas where the organization made efforts toward transparency. "We introduce transparency and also competition," Weber told the Post. "We are a disruptive innovation, a free-market alternative to Obamacare."

Other industry observers are not so sure. They raised concerns such as the fact that Medibid does not provide any reliable quality data.

"Insurance companies or hospitals drop people who have high complication rates or costs due to errors," Arthur Caplan, head of the bioethics division at NYU Langone Medical Center told the Post. "Medical care is not like buying a watch on the street or a hotel room online. The stakes are much, much higher."

To learn more:
- read the Washington Post article
- check out the Medibid website