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Health care pricing service comes to Indy

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Doctors and hospitals are notoriously reluctant to disclose prices, or are incapable of it, before patients agree to receive care. But a new service launched in Indianapolis is one more effort to try to pull back the curtain on health care prices.

Chicago-based OkCopay Inc. posts prices offered by health care providers, many of which have agreed to give cash-paying patients a price roughly equivalent to those charged to insured customers. The site also includes pricing information from health care providers that do not give cash-paying patients an additional break.

The free website is supported by advertising from health care providers who pay to run two-week promotional offers on OkCopay.com.

OKCopay launched its service in Indianapolis on Dec. 3, after starting up in Chicago in March and in Milwaukee in July. About 100 people from Indianapolis are accessing the site each day.

The company was founded by Bloomington native Touré McCluskey, who previously was part of the pricing-strategy team at Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co.
 
“We think there’s a need for it in every marketplace in the country,” McCluskey said. “The people who need it the most are people who are working, but they don’t have employer-sponsored coverage [and] they make slightly too much to get Medicaid. They’re truly in no man’s land. They’re part-time workers, free-lancers, bartenders, waitresses and entrepreneurs.”

And McCluskey thinks their ranks are growing, as high-deductible health insurance plans become more common and some programs, such as the Medicaid program in Illinois, no longer cover as many dental or vision services.

“I do see it growing just because of the general movement toward consumerism, as well as because health insurance won’t cover everything,” McCluskey said.

OkCopay is not the first service to offer price information to Indianapolis-area patients. Healthcare Blue Book, which is owned by Tennessee-based CareOperative LLC, provides general price information for free and more specific price information through employer health plans, such as the one operated by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Also, large health insurers like Indianapolis-based Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Minnesota-based UnitedHealthcare provide price information to their members based on their contracts with health care providers.

And California-based Castlight Health announced in October that it will provide its price transparency technology to Indiana University and its 17,000 employees.

OkCopay’s target, however, is the uninsured and the under-insured. And it is looking to work primarily with health care providers that are independent of large hospital systems.

It figures that if more doctors and patients can link up and conduct cash transactions outside the third-party health insurance system, patients can pay less and doctors can actually make more.

“For the doctors and the dentists, they don’t mind having their prices out there,” McCluskey said. “Because all things being equal, if you come in with your cash payment, they earn more, because they don’t have to deal with receivables and all that.”

McCluskey formed OkCopay in 2011. He and another Bloomington native, Greg Danielson, are the company’s only full-time employees. They also have a team of five part-timers.

McCluskey won an $80,000 grant this year from New York-based Echoing Green, which has helped fund the company. He hopes to raise up to $500,000 next year to expand OkCopay to 10 to 15 cities by the end of 2013 and as many as 50 by the end of 2014.

 

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