Consumer-driven healthcare provider Alegeus is adding a virtual marketplace to its consumer portal that will facilitate cheaper purchase decisions by letting employees name their price for services like MRIs.

Alegeus partnered with services providers, which the company declined to name, to create a tool within the marketplace where employees can find providers in their zip code and pay out of pocket, circumventing the insurance companies. The tool will give the average cost for a service, like an MRI, in that zip code and allow an employee to request a rate. The servicer will review the ask and accept or decline, says Chris Rodkey, senior director of product innovation at Alegeus.

“The reality of our healthcare environment [is that consumers] pay less out of pocket than through insurance,” he says.

Rodkey compared the process to getting into a fender bender and going directly to the auto shop, rather than meeting a $500 deductible with car insurance. However, he notes, most people know a direct-to-consumer option is cheaper for a car dent; not many people know how much an MRI should cost.

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“The marketplace is a benefit to employees because there are services out there to help navigate what is a typical cost],” Rodkey says. “Becoming smarter consumers in healthcare helps drive down the costs for everybody.”

Alegeus says its goal is to educate employees on how to maximize adoption and utilization of consumer-driven healthcare benefit programs, such as health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts and health reimbursement accounts. More than four in five (83%) of eligible purchases are paid out-of-pocket instead of using benefit account funds, according to the Aite Group, a market researcher in Boston.

The virtual marketplace also will offer FSA- and HSA-eligible products, like Band-Aids and contact lenses. Rather than submit receipts, Alegeus enrollees will be able to use their debit cards to purchase items electronically and those transactions will be auto-substantiated.

Consumers can access the marketplace by the end of the year, although it won’t be available on Alegeus’ mobile app until the second quarter of 2018.

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