Imagine going to the grocery store, picking up the items you need for the week, but not knowing how much anything costs until the store sends you a bill two weeks later.

Sadly, that’s how our healthcare system works every day.

Healthcare costs now represent one in every five dollars spent in our country. Patients’ deductibles and copays are rising. Prescription drugs are often unaffordable for many Americans.

We must do something about rising costs, and one key is to empower patients with the information they need to drive costs down and quality up by making the healthcare system compete for their business.

That’s why Medicare recently launched a new online tool that allows consumers to compare Medicare payments and patient copayments for certain surgical procedures that are performed in both hospital outpatient departments and ambulatory surgical centers.

The Procedure Price Lookup tool displays national averages for the amount Medicare pays the hospital or ambulatory surgical center. It also shows the national average copayment amount a beneficiary with no Medicare supplemental insurance would pay the provider.

Working with their doctors, people with Medicare can use the Procedure Price Lookup to consider potential cost differences when choosing among safe and clinically appropriate settings to get the care that best meets their needs. And cost differences can be substantial.

The lookup tool is needed because the law requires Medicare to maintain separate payment systems for different types of healthcare providers. That means Medicare pays sharply different amounts for the same service, depending on the locale of the care. It also means that people with Medicare pay different co-pays for the same service, depending on where it’s delivered.

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