Online medical shopping is now available in Missouri and Kansas, and it could be more affordable than going through insurance companies.
Launched in March, Sesame allows patients to search for medical care in the Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, areas. MediBid is an online portal that allows patients to make requests for care and doctors and hospitals to respond with an offer.
“Increasingly there were people who had insurance, but found that they were paying their medical bills themselves,” says Sesame's co-founder, Michael Botta. “They really cared how much their health care would cost them, but they didn’t have a good way to compare prices.”
Botta said he and Sesame co-founder David Goldhill saw an opportunity to work with organizations such as the Leawood-based American Association of Family Physicians. They also believed that Kansas City was representative of the country.
"One of the things we noticed was what it means to be insured in America has changed quite a bit," Batto says.
According to the Federal Reserve’s 2018 Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households report, 40 percent of Americans “say they cannot cover a $400 emergency expense.” Sesame and MediBid’s goal is to allow for patients to find affordable health care without hidden costs.
“There’s no real connection between the price of a health care service and the quality of it,” Botta says. “You can get just as good of an MRI for $400 as you can for $2,500.”
While Sesame is local to Kansas City, MediBid has doctors and patients from all over the world.
“We always offer a local option,” says Ralph Weber, the president of MediBid. “But most of our patients are looking for the best quality provider, which does sometimes mean traveling.”
These types of a la carte health care options do raise some concerns. Arthur Caplan, head of bioethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, says the quality of care and liability are both big issues.
“It is possible, sometimes, for people to just leak through… and scam their way around as they move from state to state,” Caplan says. “You’re always wondering… 'Am I going to get what I paid for?'”
But Caplan says these worries are not exclusive to medical shopping sites like Sesame and MediBid. He says the health care system as a whole isn’t completely reliable.
Botta agrees. “Traditionally in health care we haven’t done a very good job of measuring quality and measuring outcomes,” he says. “By having some these internet connected platforms to find care, we can start doing a more effective job.”
Both Weber and Botta say their companies are working to validate all of their health care providers. Both sites check their medical providers' backgrounds and show customer reviews.
“We assume that they’re (doctors) going to do what’s best for us and we don’t often have a very good way to validate that or to know that necessarily what they recommended is the best course of action,” Botta says. “So we’re hoping that platforms like these can help give people more information to act on.”
Emily Aiken is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @em_aiken.