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NEW TELEPHONE SERVICE HELPS CONSUMERS OF HEALTH CARE SERVICES BECOME BETTER INFORMED ABOUT COSTS

 NEW YORK, Sept. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- A new telephone service, The Health Care Cost Hotline, was launched today to help consumers nationwide become active partners in measuring and controlling their own health care costs. Using interactive voice-response technology, individuals can now dial 900-225-2500 ($3.95 for the first minute, $1.95 each additional minute, touch-tone phone required), to quickly and accurately find out the typical cost of medical and dental procedures where they live. In doing so, they will be able to access more than 7,000 health care service codes and fee information previously available mainly to health care providers, insurance companies and benefit administrators.
 "The average American is surprisingly uninformed about health care costs, often accepting fees without question. The information in The Hotline puts consumers in the driver's seat when planning their health care budgets and choosing doctors and other providers," says Sandy Taube, spokesman for The Health Care Cost Hotline, a new service starting operations today. "Prepared with the median fee and the range of fees for a medical or dental procedure in their area, callers can use this information to negotiate with their health care provider or seek more favorable fees elsewhere. For the first time, the choice is theirs."
 The Hotline Code Book, listing more than 800 codes describing the most commonly performed medical and dental procedures in layman's terms, is available free of charge by calling 800-383-3434, or by writing to P.O. Box 69352, Portland, OR 97201.
 The Hotline Code Book contains codes necessary to use The Health Care Cost Hotline. The Hotline may also be operated by using CPT (medical) or ADA (dental) codes commonly found on provider and insurance company statements. Individuals may also get these CPT or ADA codes directly from their provider.
 Health care costs vary widely within and between geographic areas. Lack of knowledge of such cost differences often takes an expensive toll not only on the uninsured, but also on health plan participants making co-payments for services. "In today's cost sharing environment, patients with medical and dental coverage are paying a larger portion of their own bills," Mr. Taube says. "Health insurance policies stipulate `usual, customary and reasonable' (UCR) fees for services, which are often exceeded by providers. Moreover, policies will often pay only a percentage of the UCR fee amount or withhold coverage for providers outside networks such as HMOs or PPOs. Additionally, many procedures such as cosmetic surgery or certain vision care services are not covered by health plans."
 Using a touch-tone phone, an individual accesses The Health Care Cost Hotline by entering the zip code of the location where the procedure will be performed and then entering a medical or dental procedure code. The caller then hears the "median fee," which is the exact mid-point of fees charged by providers in that zip code area, and a meaningful range of fees above and below the median. The median serves as a guideline for comparing one health care provider's fees to others in the same area. The range shows typical charges for a procedure. Health care plans other than Medicare and Medicaid will normally consider reimbursement of fees within the quoted range.
 For example, before scheduling a surgical knee arthroscopy which will include some cartilage removal, a Chicago resident may wish to know the expected cost of the procedure in his or her area. After dialing The Health Care Cost Hotline, he or she enters the first three digits of the zip code, 606, and The Hotline code number for knee arthroscopy, 5931 (or the CPT code). A clear and pleasant human voice then announces that the median fee in the Chicago area is $2,723, with fees typically ranging from $2,287 to $3,073.
 First time callers to The Health Care Cost Hotline can obtain immediate cost information if they have a specific procedure code from their provider or insurance company, or from The Hotline Code Book. Those who do not have a procedure code on the first 900 call will be able, through voice messaging, to order The Hotline Code Book to be sent by mail at no charge. They will be charged for this first call, but they will receive credit for one free call after receiving The Hotline Code Book in the mail.
 The Hotline Code Book lists more than 800 medical and dental service codes representing over 90 percent of the procedures routinely performed in the U.S. Codes are described in layman's terms and are organized anatomically and by health care service categories such as x-rays, lab work etc., for easy consumer use.
 The Health Care Cost Hotline is carried by AT&T's 225 exchange designated for business to consumer applications. Its format conforms to strict federal regulations. Once reaching The Health Care Cost Hotline, the caller will be told he/she has a short period of time to disconnect before being charged $3.95 for the first minute and $1.95 for each additional minute. If the caller disconnects within the first 18 seconds, there will be no charge. After becoming familiar with the system, the average length of each call is two minutes.
 "Most of us would not have our cars serviced or repaired without first getting an estimate, yet we go to a physician or dentist with no clue about costs before receiving services," states Mr. Taube. "A charge under $6.00 is a small expense when it can potentially save hundreds of dollars. Consumers are becoming front line soldiers in the battle against rising medical care costs, and The Health Care Cost Hotline's fee information enables everyone to become better informed health care consumers."
 -0- 9/13/93
 /CONTACT: Sandy Taube of Health Care Cost Hotline, 212-465-1698; Laura Rzasa, Heather Lowry, Lisa Habernickel or Martha Kern of Donley Communications, 212-751-6126/


CO: Health Care Cost Hotline ST: New York IN: HEA SU: PDT

SM -- NY007 -- 1092 09/13/93 08:02 EDT
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Date:Sep 13, 1993
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