American healthcare has a transparency problem.
Gaming out the price of medical treatments is a near-impossible task for the average U.S. consumer. Costs are opaque and shift heavily from one geographical region to another and depending on a patient’s insurance. So, Americans are often left with a hefty tab after a hospital visit without understanding what it is they’re paying for and, unlike in almost every other consumer services industry, can’t easily comparison shop what different care providers charge for different procedures.
Amino wants to change that. Last week, the company launched a new price comparison tool that’s the most detailed and expansive of its kind, according to Amino CEO and co-founder David Vivero. “It’s based on insurance claims data from both public and private players,” Vivero explained to Fortune in an interview.
Click here to subscribe to our new Brainstorm Health Daily Newsletter.
Amino gathered de-identified electronic claims information to fill in the blanks of U.S. healthcare, including how prices vary by physician, hospital, and health insurer. It’s a massive undertaking which ensconces 64 million price estimates across 49 common medical services (including vaccinations, hip replacements, diagnostic tests, etc.), 550,000 doctors, and 129 health insurers, and it builds on the site’s original purpose of helping Americans find new doctors in their area.
What makes Amino particularly convenient is the way its price comparison tool breaks down topline cost estimates, which may not be particularly accurate or paint the whole picture. For instance, you can enter in the type of surgery or service you’re looking to get and your insurance carrier, and Amino will spit out a map of local providers and the median price they charge your insurer for that procedure. The results are color-coded to show cheaper and more expensive options.
But the tool takes things one step further. Once you click on a result, Amino lets you scope out different nearby physicians and estimates of how much you’d have to pay them for a service.
Then, users can use the tool to break down their out-of-pocket costs depending on the type of insurance they have. Amino even lets you customize options such as how much of your deductible you’ve already used and the co-pay or co-insurance level your plan requires.
Amino’s price tool certainly isn’t the first of its kind. An increasing number of insurers and employers are trying to build tools to help patients get a better sense of how much they might have to pay for medical care.
But those efforts haven’t been very effective to date, possibly because the tools are still too complicated or don’t offer enough information. “Among employees at 2 large companies, offering a price transparency tool was not associated with lower health care spending,” researchers wrote in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in May. “The tool was used by only a small percentage of eligible employees.”
Amino is hoping it can help buck that trend with an intuitive and simple tool that’s expected to become more accurate as more insurance claim information pours in.