UnitedHealthcare is Helping Consumers Comparison Shop for Health Care

Hospitals are posting costs for medical services online, responding to a new federal requirement that took effect January 1. But is this new requirement actually helping people more effectively comparison shop for health care?

While access to hospital charges provides people a starting point, the information might not help the millions of people with health insurance. That’s because hospital charges are the amount people pay out of pocket for care, rather than the rates health plans have negotiated with care providers and facilities.

Here’s some information about how people can more effectively comparison shop for health care:

  • For millions of people with UnitedHealthcare coverage, they can access quality and cost estimates that are customized based on their specific health plan and reflect actual contracted rates with health care providers and facilities. The online and mobile resources provide independently validated quality metrics alongside actual patient ratings, while in some cases enabling people to earn financial incentives for simply accessing the estimates. 
  • More than one-third (36 percent) of Americans say they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a UnitedHealthcare survey. People who use online/mobile transparency resources are more likely to select high-quality health care providers across all specialties, while on average saving 36 percent compared to non-users. 
  • A public website, uhc.com/transparency, enables all Americans to access market average prices for nearly 800 common medical services, providing a starting point for people looking to research health care costs in their local area.


Oral Health and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is affecting countless lives and communities across Texas and the country. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that opiods are the cause of more than 130 overdose deaths in the United States each day. The economic cost exceeds $500 billion annually, according to a study from The Council of Economic Advisors.

Prescription painkillers are often necessary and useful for some medical conditions; however, these powerful drugs – such as oxycodone or codeine – come with a high risk of misuse and addiction. This is especially true for teens and young adults, in part because adolescent brains are not fully matured and are therefore more susceptible to the addictive effects of opioids.

One potentially overlooked aspect of the opioid epidemic is the connection to oral health. In fact, oral health professionals write 12 percent of all opioid prescriptions, including 45 percent of opioid prescriptions for adolescents, according to a UnitedHealthcare analysis of claims data.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity to recognize the risks for young people – and provide a reminder for parents – about the connection between oral health and opioids.

With that in mind, here is information for people to consider:

Wisdom Teeth: More than 5 million people had their wisdom teeth removed last year, mostly teens and young adults. While the decision to remove wisdom teeth should involve professional advice from a dentist or oral surgeon, patients and parents should also be aware of the risks associated with potential exposure to opioids following this procedure. For many young people, wisdom teeth extraction often represents their first exposure to opioids, and a recent study from Stanford University found that teens can end up in a battle with opioid additional following this procedure.

Limit Supply: Other than in extreme cases, it is important to limit prescriptions for the minimum appropriate dosage and number of days, which the CDC recommends at three days and fewer than 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day. This is because the likelihood for chronic opioid use increases after the third day of use and rises rapidly thereafter, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and misuse or dependence on opioids can lead to addiction to more powerful illicit drugs.

Alternative Pain Medications: If you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid following a dental procedure or another medical event, it is good to ask your health care professional if there are alternatives, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. In many cases, these medications can be equally effective in pain management, without the risk of addiction.   

Proper Disposal: Approximately 70 percent of misused opioid prescriptions were obtained, stolen or purchased from a friend or relative, according to the CDC. That’s why it is important to keep opioids in a safe place – like a locked cabinet – and always properly dispose of unused medications. That can include returning the drugs to your pharmacy, or mixing them with water and an unappealing substance, such as cat litter, and putting in the trash (if simply thrown in the trash, unused prescription drugs can be retrieved and misused).  


UnitedHealthcare Sponsors 2019 Special Olympics Texas Winter Games

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Texas was again a proud sponsor of the Special Olympics Texas (SOTX) Winter Games. 2019 marks UnitedHealthcare’s fourth year as a Year-Round Co-Sponsor, demonstrating support for SOTX and its shared mission of helping Texans live healthier lives.

Participation in 26th annual winter games was at an all-time high for SOTX. More than 2,600 children and adult athletes competed in the weekend’s bowling, volleyball and powerlifting events.

Photo Credit: Special Olympics Texas
Photo Credit: Special Olympics Texas