October 8, 2015 — The price of certain women's health care services for women covered through employer-sponsored health insurance varies significantly within metropolitan areas, according to a new report by Castlight Health, Modern Healthcare reports.
For the report, researchers reviewed pricing for health care services in 179 metropolitan areas in the U.S. The researchers defined "prices" as including what employees paid through copayment or deductibles, as well as how much employers contributed.
Along with information on other health care services, the report included information about pricing on testing for the human papillomavirus, mammograms, preventive gynecological exams and ob-gyn follow-up visits.
The researchers found that the price of an HPV test varies by a factor of at least 10 in 47 metro markets, Modern Healthcare reports. Further, in Philadelphia -- the area that had the greatest variation in price for the service -- women might pay between $32 and $626 for HPV testing.
The researchers also noted variation within markets when it comes to mammogram pricing. For example, in the Dallas area, which had the largest variation, a woman could pay $50 to $1,045 for a mammogram. In the New York City and Los Angeles areas, the price ranged from $130 to $1,898 and $86 to $954, respectively.
The researchers noted less variation within markets for the price of ob-gyn follow-up visits. According to the report, employers and workers paid no more than about twice as much as the lowest cost for the service (Herman, Modern Healthcare, 10/7). Phoenix had the greatest variation in ob-gyn follow-up visit costs, with the cost of the service ranging from $57 to $137. Meanwhile, an initial routine gynecological exam in Phoenix might cost between $72 and $388.
In addition, the report found price variations for women's health services between different regions, even when cost-of-living factors were considered. For example, the average price for an HPV test is $165 in Indianapolis compared with $32 in Charlotte, N.C. Meanwhile, the average price of a mammogram varied between $159 in Cincinnati and $485 in Sacramento, Calif.
According to KHN, the Castlight report did not identify the source of the variation. However, other research has noted several factors, such as the different arrangements private insurers make with various providers.
Jonathan Rende, chief of research and development at Castlight, noted that the price of women's health care services was especially significant. "We've seen over the years that women are bigger consumers of heath care than men in general and we wanted to drill into some of the more common services and see how those varied," he said (Rau, Kaiser Health News, 10/7).
Separately, Castlight Vice President of Product Marketing Eric Mann said, "There's a huge variation in cost for women's health services." He added, "It has implications for women's health because they don't end up getting the services they need if they can't afford them."
In addition, Mann noted that the U.S. health care system "does not have transparency for price," adding, "As or more importantly, it doesn't have transparency for quality" (Modern Healthcare, 10/7).