Health insurers harness consumers to drive prices down, quality up

A few health insurer organizations, like UnitedHealth Group subsidiary OptumHealth and the national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, are making new efforts to harness the power of their consumers to drive costs down and quality up.

How are they doing it? Not only are they pushing transparency, but they are also employing people just to help their consumers make decisions based on the information revealed through that transparency. In many cases they are seeing positive results as far as reducing cost; critics, however, wonder whether insurers should be the ones to compile this information and guide consumers. 

Hypothetically, driving consumers to the higher quality centers for high-cost, very important procedures (for example, bone marrow transplants) will force other centers to increase their quality, or go out of business. However, this process also gives insurers a lot of leverage in deciding what they are willing to pay hospitals: after all, if the hospital demands too much, they can simply encourage consumers to go somewhere else.

It's a complicated issue, but one where insurers are diving in, whether it's a good idea or not.

To learn more about these cost-saving efforts:
- read this Star Tribune piece