Study: People Using myHealthcare Cost Estimator Are More Likely to Select High-Quality Physicians

September 16, 2014
  • Study shows users of UnitedHealthcare’s free medical price transparency service are 7 percent more likely to select a high-quality primary care physician and 9 percent more likely to select a high-quality orthopedist
  • With consumers using these high-quality health care providers, employers have the opportunity for meaningful savings in total medical costs
  • myHealthcare Cost Estimator users have received more than $2.8 billion in estimates since the online and mobile tool launched in 2012, enabling consumers to make more informed health care decisions and helping employers reduce health benefit costs
  • More frequent use of high-quality physicians likely to improve outcomes and reduce costs over time for consumers, employers, health benefits plan sponsors and the health system

People who use the myHealthcare Cost Estimator™ online tool are more likely than nonusers to select high-quality health care providers, according to a new study from UnitedHealthcare.

The study, A comparison of myHealthcare Cost Estimator users and nonusers: Effect on provider choices, and associated research also found that when myHealthcare Cost Estimator users visited physicians identified for delivering quality and cost-efficient care, employers were able to reduce their total health benefit cost.

myHealthcare Cost Estimator – free to all consumers, employers and UnitedHealthcare plan participants through the Health4Me™ mobile app – enabled people to more frequently select high-quality health care providers across all specialties, including primary care physicians (7 percent more likely) and orthopedists (9 percent more likely).1 The study compared more than 425,000 users and nonusers of the online service and defined high-quality care providers based on the UnitedHealthcare Premium® physician designation program, a proprietary and exclusive analysis of care provider quality and cost efficiency.

All consumers can comparison shop for medical services using a “guest” version of myHealthcare Cost Estimator, which can be accessed through the free Health4Me mobile app that’s available in the iPhone and Android apps stores. Consumers have already downloaded Health4Me more than 1 million times, providing valuable information about the quality and cost of care providers and facilities, and enabling people to more easily navigate the health care system.  

“This study shows consumers who use myHealthcare Cost Estimator are making better, more informed choices regarding the quality of care,” said Sam Ho, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare. “By accessing crucial quality and cost information, people are taking control of their health and better understanding their treatment options.”

Encouraging consumers to visit high-quality health care providers has important implications for individuals, employers and the health care system. Previous UnitedHealthcare research showed that using Premium-Designated physicians helps improve health outcomes and reduce costs by10 percent on average. In a 2012 claims analysis, costs for Premium-Designated orthopedic surgeons were 19 percent lower than for other orthopedic surgeons.

There are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, even though there is little or no corresponding improvement in health outcomes for services performed by higher-priced care providers. For example, the total cost for childbirth, including prenatal and postnatal care, at hospitals in the New York City area range from $9,699 to $29,076. For back surgery, specifically lumbar fusion, the cost ranges from $59,090 to $77,390 at area health care facilities in San Francisco. Other cities show similarly widespread variation by procedure.

Anyone using myHealthcare Cost Estimator can estimate the cost of more than 635 common services across more than 365 “episodes of care,” which create a comprehensive view of what consumers should expect throughout their course of treatment, from the time they first visit the doctor to the test or procedure, and through physical therapy or any necessary follow-up care. The price information for the guest version of myHealthcare Cost Estimator is based on local average costs.

For more than 21 million UnitedHealthcare plan participants, personalized estimates are available at both and the Health4Me app and reflect an individual’s own health plan benefits, including his or her real-time account balances when applicable, and provide a comprehensive view of what consumers should expect throughout their course of treatment. Estimates are based on actual contracted rates with UnitedHealthcare in-network care providers; in the small number of cases when that information is not available, estimates are based on historical claims with the care provider.

Consumers and employers are looking for help to understand what it will cost to go to the doctor and have the confidence in making the best use of their health benefits. In a recent survey of myHealthcare Cost Estimator users, 67 percent of the people surveyed said the tool gave them confidence to make better cost choices, and 84 percent said they would use it again.

myHealthcare Cost Estimator provides plan participants the ability to compare quality and cost information for about 748,239 health care professionals and 5,600 hospitals. Collaboration with care providers is critically important when building cost estimators and other consumer support tools to ensure they enhance the overall patient experience – and accurately portray expected costs and treatment options – rather than focus solely on costs.

myHealthcare Cost Estimator continues the tradition of transparency established nine years ago when UnitedHealthcare introduced its first offering to help consumers comparison shop for health services and understand how costs differ from doctor to doctor.

About UnitedHealthcare
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 800,000 physicians and care professionals, and 6,000 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. Globally, UnitedHealthcare serves more than 45 million people in health benefits and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company.


1 Odds ratio, which quantifies the strength of an association between two properties within a given population, was used as the basis for the association

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