Surfing For Surgery

andrews grab
andrews grab

Like millions of Americans, Gary Garcia is shopping online, CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports. But he's not on eBay or Garcia needs a new heart valve, and he's shopping for surgery.

Using a Web site called Health, Garcia learns which nearby hospital is the best at heart surgery — and then, to his amazement, he gets an estimated breakdown of the costs. He gets the list price for his operation, the discounted price his insurance will pay and his estimated co-payment.

"I am looking for a combination of the price, the quality, the efficiency," Garcia explains.

The Internet today is exploding with medical information that was mostly secret just years ago. But now, if you want to know the cost of a doctor's visit at the Dartmouth Medical Center, you can find it online. On the state of Florida's official Web site, you can comparison shop for prescription drugs.

Health Care Pricing Resources.
Health Grades is one of the Web sites that is unlocking this vault of information. Vice president Sarah Loughran says these cost reports are based on what Medicare and insurance companies pay in each region of the country.

"The fact of the matter is consumers need more information," Loughran says. "I mean, can you imagine going to buy a car, and not knowing the price."

The theory is that one day, patients will cost shop for surgery like they shop for cars — and force hospitals to compete on price. But that's one day, not now.

Patty Sandekian, who runs a plumbing business with her husband, bought a cost report and found that her hospital wanted $1,600 more for an ovarian operation than the regional average around Denver.

"I was flabbergasted," Sandekian says.

When she asked for a lower price, the hospital said, "forget it." "And I was at the option where I didn't have a choice of 'take it or leave it.' I had to take it," she adds.

But some day, experts predict patients will be able to negotiate. As more people pick a doctor or a hospital based on a mouse click, the market will drive down the cost of health care.