Interview by Breanne Thomas
Hi Jeanne! Can you tell us what you do and how you came to launch ClearHealthCosts?
I’m the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. We’re a New York journalism startup bringing transparency to the healthcare marketplace by telling people what everything costs.
I founded the company after taking a buyout from The New York Timeswhere I was an editor and reporter for almost 25 years. A year after I left, I won $20,000 in a Shark Tank-type pitch contest in front of a jury of New York venture capitalists to start this company.
On our site and in partnership with other media organizations, we use shoe-leather journalism, data journalism, investigative reporting and crowdsourcing to help people navigate health care, and to be informed about — and have some agency over — their health costs.
We save people money — we saved one woman $3,786 the other day! — and relieve some of their anxiety.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in bringing transparency to health care costs?
The existing health care players don’t want transparency. They make money by keeping you in the dark.
The providers, insurers, Big Pharma, the middlemen, consultants, brokers, service providers, and so on all make money by hiding prices and by taking a dime or a dollar or a hundred dollars out of each transaction. It ultimately comes out of your pocket.
So the incumbents work hard to maintain opacity in prices, and they make money on that information asymmetry.
The Internet doesn’t like it when people lie and keep secrets, so we are using the tools of journalism and the Internet, and making transparency happen against strong opposition from those powerful incumbents.
Why is it important that ClearHeathCosts continues to grow over the next few years?
We’ve learned that when people get educated about health costs, they think very differently about what they’re spending. Much of healthcare is “shoppable,” and we all have to start thinking about that whenever possible.
People may choose not to get a medication or a treatment if they think it will cost too much. We help by revealing those costs, so people don’t have to fear the “gotcha” bill or just delay or refuse treatment.
Often when people ask “how much?” they hear “We can’t tell you what it will cost,” “Did you ask your insurer?” or “Health care is just expensive, sorry!”
We’re here to help.
We should all of us ask these four questions — at the doctor’s office, at the hospital, at the pharmacy, and whenever possible:
- How much will that cost and does that include every single associated charge?
- How much will that cost me on my plan?
- What’s the cash or self-pay price or are there same-day or prompt-pay discounts?
- Can you please put that in writing for me? If not, take notes — name, phone number, date. That way, if you need to argue, you’ll have information.