Healthbeat Report: Shopping For Your Health

March 20, 2009 10:10:58 AM PDT
The economic recession is affecting America's health. A recent consumer reports poll finds 66 percent of Americans face sticker shock when they go to the pharmacy. Another 28 percent are either cutting back on medications or not taking them at all because it's too expensive. But there is a new way to save money without jeopardizing your health.

With red tag sales and drastic mark downs in this economy, retailers are dropping prices to get people to buy. But one price never seems to go down enough.

The cost of prescription medication and high tech testing. for people who are under or uninsured the out of pocket costs can be devastating. Enter a new Web site called Leslie's List.

Cynthia Melero is with Leslie's List. Her job is to call medical centers, pharmacies and clinics in Chicago to find out costs for prescription drugs and radiological procedures. Those charges are then broken down on the Web site so consumers can do a cost comparison.

"Leslie's List is really a gift to the community," said Dr. Leslie Ramirez, internist.

Dr. Leslie Ramirez is a Chicago physician who started Leslie's List after realizing a family member and even some of her own patients were avoiding procedures or medications because of the cost. The site is free to the public, has no sponsorship and is not affiliated with any institution.

Most consumers don't realize treatments can vary greatly in cost. For example, consider the prescription nausea drug Zofran.

"One institution, you could get 30 tablets for $65, another place those same 30 tablets - we're still talking generic - were $650," said Dr. Ramirez.

Dr. Ramirez says that's the most extreme example she found but compare these other prices:

- Z-pack, a popular antibiotic. Pharmacy price: $11 dollars. Elsewhere: $45.
- birth control pills: $9 at one location and $35 at another place.

As far as high tech testing, one center on Leslie's List offers an MRI of the brain for $3,800 while another has the price at $350.

But how do you know you're getting the same quality of care at these cheaper prices?

"The American College of Radiology has set up an accreditation process so we chose to use only facilities accredited for each test," said Dr. Ramirez.

Denny Ankrum is singing a new tune since he's discovered Leslie's List. He needed a scan of his liver and he decided to shop around. One hospital quoted a discount price of $587. The Web site helped him save even more money.

"I went on Leslie's List and found out I could get the same ultrasound for $114," said Ankrum.

Ankrum was laid off from his job but does have insurance . The problem is his out of pocket expense is more than he can pay for. He's now dealing with a cancer diagnosis and months of costly treatments. And like so many other Americans, worries it could financially wipe him out. That's why saving money, despite his condition, is important.

"You can't put a price tag on your health but if you don't have the money then you can't pay the price," said Ankrum.

Dr. Ramirez also has a section on Leslie's List for low priced clinics in the Chicago area and hopes to have more services soon.

Some facilities dispute her numbers. She admits it's up to consumers to double check on prices and only use Leslie's List as a springboard to be their own advocate.

Many pharmacies have discount programs and hospital patients can ask for financial coordinators.

Leslie's List: