North Texas

Patients Use Online Deal Sites for Health Care Procedures

Flat-rate, bundled health care could drive health care costs in a new direction

Booking your next medical procedure could be as easy as scoring a deal on Groupon.

According to industry experts, shopping online for medical procedures is becoming more popular as patients look for cheaper options without compromising quality.

At Hunt Regional Medical Center in Greenville, women can get a mammogram for $100, which is four times cheaper than the national average.

"We have a nice hospital here, fully staffed, fully equipped, fully manned to handle all types of health care," said Lee Boles, CFO at Hunt Regional Medical Center. "Quite honestly, those resources aren't used at their fullest capacity."

Which is why, Boles said, it makes sense to sell procedures at a flat-rate cash price that is cheaper than the rates negotiated with health insurance companies.

To do so, the hospital teamed up with MDSave, an online health care marketplace.

Patients can prepay for hundreds of routine or major medical procedures at *transparent* prices that include the cost of everything, from doctors fees to hospital fees.

The idea is called flat-rate, bundled health care, and experts say it's driving medicine in a new direction.

"They're taking a very, we will call it, ' or' methodology here in that they're going to hospital systems, surgical facilities, imaging centers and saying, 'If you don't have patients in your door, you're losing money. So anytime you have an opening or availability, we will take those, but you've got to sell them to us, at a discount and on a bundled basis, and we will fill those beds for you,'" explained Seth Denson, health care consultant at GDP Advisors.

The catch might be that it requires payment up front and it's not for everyone.

People with employer-sponsored health insurance may not benefit, but for those without health insurance or who have high-deductible plans, Denson said the model is something patients should explore.

In the two years that Hunt Regional has offered flat-rate bundled services, Boles said the hospital has brought in $2.4 million in cash sales, exceeding their expectations.

More importantly, he said, patients can now afford important health procedures they might have once skipped out on.

"It's actually been beneficial to the doctors, too, who were worried about their patients having access to the services."

Right now, MDSave has three partners in rural areas of North Texas.

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