Creating A More Transparent Health Care System: Q&A With Regence President Don Antonucci

by Alicia Caramencio

July 5, 2016

A little research and comparison shopping can go a long way in finding the best deal. The same goes for health care, according to new data from Regence BlueShield and health care startup HealthSparq.

When choosing a doctor, consumers can use health plan tools to compare price, quality, safety, or location. By providing consumers with the resources to shop effectively, the Regence and HealthSparq study found that people living in Washington state could save an average of $41 per month on their health care spending.

DonARegence BlueShield President Don Antonucci (pictured) shared insights about the health care cost transparency study and the need to educate and empower consumers to make better, more informed decisions about their care.

What is the most important takeaway from the Health Care Shopping Trends Report? What does it mean for consumers and the health care industry?

Antonucci: The most important takeaway is that one simple change can save an incredible amount of money. For employers, simply exploring and promoting access to telehealth can save $49 per person per month. We have the ability to drastically cut down on health care spending and with just a few tweaks there’s a huge opportunity to recognize real savings.

Of all the findings, what surprised you the most?

Antonucci: I thought one of the most surprising things was that price doesn’t always equal better quality. Essentially, this data highlights that a variation in service cost won’t always translate into the quality of the care received being greater than a lower-cost option. For those with high-deductible plans this can have significant impact on a family’s ability to stay within their health care budget.

Many health plans currently offer tools that can help consumers save on health care. How does Regence let its members know about their availability and encourage usage?

Antonucci: Regence is dedicated to educating our members and empowering them to make decisions that positively impact their health and wellness. Because of this, we highlight transparency tools and cost variation to our clients as well as the broker community.  We also offer incentives and easy access to customer service in order to encourage people to get the most out of their benefits and feel supported and knowledgeable about all of their options.

What are some of the biggest challenges to health care cost transparency and how is Regence working to overcome them?

Antonucci: To paraphrase Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt, the current U.S. health care system is like shopping at Nordstrom blindfolded and months later being handed a statement that says, “Pay this amount.” For many years, this has been the customer experience in our industry. At Regence, we have been working over the past decade to take the blindfold off. We do this through tools just like HealthSparq that help educate our members and empower them to save money through smart health care choices. We also provide a treatment cost estimator for our members that shows network average treatment-level costs, gives estimates on common treatments by regional averages, and highlights prices of the most common, elective services.

As technology continues to advance, so does our ability to create a more transparent health care system that enables our members to make the most informed decisions.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.