Health care plan sponsors planning to get in the front of costly services this year may want to consider increasing employee communication, particularly if they have high deductible health plans. New data from Change Healthcare shows wide price variability among some common medical procedures. 

The company’s Healthcare Transparency Index finds that “target” areas such as CT scans, MRIs, diabetes screening, mammograms and C-section deliveries have variable costs that range from 182% to 794% higher than the lowest cost procedure.

At the top of the variable price list, CT scans varied from $300 to $2,681, ultrasounds ranged from $100 to $572 and diabetes screenings ranged from $118 to $407.

However, these figures pale in comparison to the cost of C-section deliveries, which ranged from a high of $23,526 to a low of $6,128, according to the analysis.

Clayton Nicholas, vice president of strategy with Change Healthcare, a provider of health care cost transparency tools for employers, health plans and consumers, says the index’s new findings will help to open the conversation among the 40 million employees currently enrolled high deductible plans. The HCTI tracks cost variability among common health care services by analyzing prescription, medical, dental and vision services on a quarterly basis.

“We want to identify target opportunities where a plan sponsor can identify and look at their populations and kind of get a sense of the prevalence of different healthcare services in their population,” Nicholas says, while adding that this information can help “identify target opportunities to create either campaigns or targeted messaging around to help direct people to the appointment point of care for certain services or let them know there are opportunities to save.”

The company analyzed more than 167 million claims during the 2012’s third quarter for this current index update.

“Care setting may contribute to costs differences, but often there’s little explanation for why common treatments may cost two, three or four times more at one provider versus another,” says Change Healthcare president and CEO Doug Ghertner.

Some reasons for this disparity include the myriad places employees can obtain care.

“I think for certain services, prices have continued to have higher variances because you have different points of care where they can be done now,” Nicholas says. Imaging, for example, can be “done in a retail clinic, a workplace health center or outpatient care.”

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