State tries out cost-comparison site

The Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) is testing an online system that will provide basic comparisons of health care costs across the state.

Officials see it as a way to offer consumers, health care providers and legislators better information on what facilities charge for certain procedures and why those charges might differ from one facility to the next.

The pilot site, Health Care in Wisconsin: Information to Contain Costs and Improve Quality (www.dhfs.state.wi.us/healthcarecosts), lists the average charge at each hospital and surgery center in any Wisconsin county for seven common outpatient procedures and three kinds of birth-related hospital stays.

Each of those facility averages also is compared to the average for each procedure for the state as a whole.

"We have all of this information collected on the main DHFS site already, but to get to these kinds of comparisons, people have to drill down pretty deep," said Gary Radloff, a DHFS spokesperson. "So this new site is an attempt to provide a more user-friendly way of getting to that information."

The pilot project is intended to garner reactions from users about what they like and don't like about the format in which the information is presented and the data that is included, Radloff said.

It will run at least through the fall and possibly to the end of the year, when evaluations will be presented to the state legislature, which meets again in January.

However, Radloff said, if a bigger site is considered in the future, officials will have to be careful how much information is included because many people already buy sets of DHFS data and the new site should not affect that revenue.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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