Tool allows people to shop for lowest price on medical procedures

New idea in health care savings called Smart Shopper has come to Texas

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The cost of health care in Houston is skyrocketing, and with prices so high, many people actually skip the medical treatments they need because of cost.

Dr. Lisa Haubert, a colorectal surgeon at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, has an elderly patient battling cancer who recently canceled lifesaving cancer surgery at the last minute because it was going to break her financially.

"They come into my room and say, 'Your patient didn't show up,' and finally we get hold of her and she's like, 'Oh, I'm cancelling my surgery and the reason is money,'" Haubert said.

A brand new idea in health care savings called Smart Shopper has come to Texas. It's an online price comparison tool that allows people to shop for the lowest price on over 100 medical procedures, including colonoscopies, which can range in price from $400 to $4,000, CAT scans, which can cost anywhere from $200 to $2,400, and MRIs, which can run from $150 to $3,000.

By using Smart Shopper, a program developed by a company called Vitals, people are suddenly able to find the best price for the procedure needed, and people get paid for price shopping. To access Smart Shopper, they must go through their employer or health plan.

How much money could someone earn for using Smart Shopper?

"The average customer will receive a check from us for between $300 and $500 for a single medical occurrence, for a single procedure," said Mitch Rothschild, president of Smart Shopper.

Valerie Rich, a school administrator with a thyroid condition, has used Smart Shopper seven times over the past three years for everything from mammography to hand surgery.

"I have been able to receive $1,500 in cash rewards by using Smart Shopper," Valerie said.

Smart Shopper also helps people find quality care by providing doctor profiles and patient reviews.

Dr. Haubert is in favor of the idea of price shopping for something as important as health care, hoping it will drive more people to actually get the medical treatments they really need.

How can someone access Smart Shopper for themselves or their family? Smart Shopper works exclusively with employers and health plans all over the country.

Smart Shopper has just come to Texas, so at this point very few people know anything about it.

Smart Shopper currently serves more than 1.2 million people in the United States and is affiliated with more than 15 major health plans.

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