The medical marketplace

A new Web site dedicated to the concept of consumer driven health care got a double boost today when both Minnesota Public Radio and the Star Tribune released stories on carol.com, a Web site that makes it easier for people to shop around for the best medical deal.

There’s no Carol at carol.com, but there’s a Tony — Tony Miller — who is the CEO of the Web site. He told Lorna Benson the concept of a medical marketplace is already driving down prices.


“You know what has happened since the last time I’ve been on this site? And I wish I could show this to you historically. I’ll have to go back and see if I can archive it. But when we first produced these care packages, Park Nicollet was pricing their base price at $213 versus Minute Clinic’s $30,” says Miller.

Now the flu vaccination at Park Nicollet is listed at $34. That’s a price drop of $183. Miller says it’s proof that competition in health care is good for consumers.

Consumer-driven health care is a recent buzz phrase in the field. MPR took a look at the concept a couple of years ago in the award-winning series, Prescription for Change.

It certainly has its supporters; it also has its detractors because of some early research on who is most likely to be most involved in a health care plan that’s consumer driven:


Early research shows that consumer-driven health care plans tend to appeal most to healthy people, the very people that help lower traditional insurance costs for everyone else. Albers says without these people in the insurance pool, traditional insurance rates will rise rapidly.

As more companies move toward creating a medical marketplace in their benefits plan, a study out this month from the Employee Benefit Research Institute is worth considering. It says the flaw in the idea is its dependence on an educated consumer.


Trying to “activate consumerism” by promoting consumer-directed health plans seems little different from past managed care attempts to stem out-of-control health costs by changing consumer behavior. But past (and current) “top down” approaches, structured without a better understanding of what consumers need to know and what they value, are likely to be ineffective over time. There is no research consensus that consumer-driven health benefits alone will contain health care costs.

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