If you're uninsured or have a high deductible health plan, you've likely experienced the frustration of trying to figure out how much a specific medical procedure might cost you.
Start up ClearHealthCosts is trying to help. Former New York Times journalist Jeanne Pinder hatched the idea on the simple premise that "somehow you could bring transparency to the health care marketplace," as she told me today in an interview.
The site launched with price comparisons across 30 common procedures in New York and then (lucky for those in the Bay Area) added San Francisco. Let's pick a simple lower back MRI without dye. I searched within 25 miles of San Francisco, and the range was $500 on the low end to $1945 on the high end. If you're paying out of pocket, that's a whopping $1,445 savings to you.
In this case, the main driver of the big cost difference appeared to be whether the MRI would be done in a hospital (more overhead) or a clinic.
Pinder says that her team is "committing acts of journalism" with this site. They collect data in a variety of ways, but Pinder says one thing she has learned is that "in some cases, the prices seem to be kind of made up." If you are using the site, be sure to click the "notes" button next to a price. It often includes helpful information about additional costs or price options at that facility.