Bidding on Medical Services Raises Quality, Ethical Concerns
According to a report on Medscape.com (registration required), for Francisco Velazco, an unemployed Seattle handyman, an online auction yielded an affordable solution to getting his torn ligament repaired. Without health insurance and unable to pay the $15,000 estimated cost from a local provider, Velazco turned to MediBid, an online medical auction site that matches patients who are seeking non-emergency treatment with physicians. MediBid doesn’t check provider credentials but requests physician license numbers so prospective patients can check on the physician’s credentials themselves.
Valazco paid $25 to post his request for surgery and a few days later he had bids for outpatient treatment from surgeons in New York, California, and Virginia. One bid for $7,500 included the anesthesia and related costs and information about orthopaedist Dr. William T. Grant in Charlottesville, Virginia. Velazco eventually underwent surgery in an outpatient surgical center that Dr. Grant co-owns. This was Dr. Grant’s first MediBid case, and he said, “I was certainly invested in wanting this to be a positive experience for everybody.” According to Velazco, the experience was ideal.
About 120,000 consumers have used MediBid, with many of them uninsured or covered by high-deductible health plans. On the provider end, there are about 6,000 physicians or surgery centers on board with MediBid, and they too pay a fee to bid on requests.
Not surprisingly online auctions for medical services have critics, among them Arthur L. Caplan, head of the division of bioethics at New York’s Langone Medical Center, who said, “Cheap sounds good, but in these auctions you’re not getting any information: Was the guy at the bottom of his class in medical school?”