Consumers can shop online for cars, clothes, and even romantic partners – but medical care?
Yes, medical care.
Medibid, an auction site founded by Ralph Weber, offers patients the opportunity to solicit bids for a variety of medical procedures from doctors enrolled on the site. For a tiered subscription fee, patients and doctors alike can either place or bid on single requests or unlimited requests. Once the patient accepts a bid that covers the full cost of the procedure, they make arrangements directly with the physician and pay for services by cash or credit card in full.
Proponents of bidding for medical service, including Weber, argue that this development is an organic evolution of the online marketplace that will allow consumers to take control of their healthcare spending in a way that insurance providers and hospital systems do not. Medibid providers, who are largely in small practices or run their own surgery centers, are able to charge lower fees without compromising their profit margins because they can skip the costly step of billing insurance plans.
However, a number of critics point out several drawbacks to the online auction approach to medical care despite acknowledging the difficulty of navigating (and paying) hospital prices. Red flags include fewer regulations of physician-owned outpatient centers, lack of “quality indicators” to support the doctors bidding on procedures, and the potential for complications that are not covered by the Medibid agreement.
Hospitals may be getting the message – a number of hospitals around the country are beginning to post their procedure prices (minus surgeon’s fees) on their Web sites. The aim of hospitals that choose to do so (and the states that have mandated the practice) is to help patients make the best decisions for the care based on price and quality.