It’s not surprising that one area of private healthcare that the Competition Commission investigation is looking at is transparency (and competitiveness) of pricing in the private healthcare sector.
If you ask UK consumers, “What does it cost to see a private consultant?”, many will have little idea. The same applies for most private healthcare services. Ask someone what they think an MRI scan costs. Or what a hip replacement costs. You would get a wide variety of answers.
The industry is to blame
It’s the industry that is to blame for this. Healthcare providers from individual specialists to the major private hospital groups are reluctant to say, “this is what private treatment costs”.
We need to fix the problem.
Part of the problem lies with the way that private healthcare is funded. Around 80% of private treatment is funded through health insurance. In many cases the patient isn’t paying for the insurance; it’s paid for by the employer. The patient may get an idea of the cost of their insurance when it comes to looking at their annual tax return (where the health insurance cover is taxed as a benefit). But when it comes to “spending” their health insurance on private treatment, they are provided with little or no indication of what it is costing.
The story of Peter Patient
Let’s take an example of a typical insured patient experience.
Peter Patient has health insurance through his company. The scheme has a £500 limit on outpatient investigations and care, and a £100 excess. One day, Peter has a health problem and gets referred privately to a consultant at the local private hospital. He lets his health insurance company know and gets his referral “approved”. Peter goes to see the consultant. At no point is he informed what the cost of this consultation is. (Let’s assume it's £250). The consultant refers him for some scans and investigations. A scan is carried out that week in the private hospital. (Let’s assume this scan is £300). Some blood tests are requested. (Let’s assume £150). No indication is provided to the patient of what these scans and tests cost. Another investigation takes place privately in the imaging unit at the consultant’s NHS hospital. Again, no indication of cost is provided for this investigation. (Let’s assume £400).
So far, Peter Patient has racked up a bill of £1,100 before starting treatment. He knows that he has to pay £100 excess...but his outpatient care has far exceeded his £500 limit. He’ll probably find out about the “debt” he has built up when the bills get sent to the insurance company.
What about self-pay patients?
Surely it’s easier for self-pay patients to find out what private healthcare costs. After all, they are paying out of their own pockets. Well...it’s far from straightforward. On our Private Healthcare UK and GoPrivate web sites, our aim is to help patients make the right choice of private healthcare provider, be that an individual consultant, a clinic or a hospital. And one factor in making a choice is knowing what something costs.
But...what is the most difficult piece of information to get out of the consultants and clinics who are profiled on our sites? You guessed. It’s the price!
Let’s do it now!
The report of the Competition Commission investigation will not be published until 2014. My guess is that it will encourage (or make compulsory) the publication of prices for private healthcare services. Which means that consultants, clinics and hospitals will have to publish price lists.
But why wait until 2014? Be bold...you know what you charge for your services. It’s time to tell your patients!
Publicise your prices on GoPrivate.com
Enable patients to see what you charge, and make it easy for them to send an enquiry or book your services. Search for your listing or profile on GoPrivate.com and make sure that it is up-to-date, and your current consultation and treatment prices are displayed.