jeanne pinder

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Pinder

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Jeanne Pinder

The Bill Buster

Ten years ago, New York Times journalist Jeanne Pinder was reviewing her medical bills when one jumped out at her: more than $6,000 for anesthesia during a quick outpatient procedure. Pinder began to research each line item and found that an anti-nausea medication for which she'd been charged $1,419 could be had for just $2.49 through a local drug supply company. She spent months disputing the bill; when the hospital wouldn't budge, she sent a check for $500 (about half her co-pay) with a letter saying they were lucky to get that much. "They never responded, but they did cash the check," she says.

Commiserating with friends, Pinder learned that most of them, too, had been grossly overcharged at some point. So she decided to use the tools of her trade to fight back: After taking a buyout from the Times, where she'd worked for 23 years, she founded ClearHealthCosts (CHC). The fact-finding start-up partners with news organizations to gather data on medical costs from providers, patients, and government price lists. It also organizes this information, makes it available to the public, and publishes advice on comparison shopping for reasonable rates on things like mammograms, MRIs, and dental fillings. "We aim to protect people against outrageous bills while helping them understand how the system works," Pinder says.

CHC is free to individuals (the news organizations are the ones that pay—in exchange for access to CHC's data, use of its software, and other services that assist them in reporting on healthcare and drug pricing). Thanks to Pinder's detective work, one New Orleans woman saved nearly $4,000, while another in Newtown, Pennsylvania, knocked $1,205 off her bill (similar successes have played out across the country). Pinder hopes the information will help change medical pricing, one bill at a time. "Patients should know what stuff costs," she says. "And insurance executives, hospital administrators, and policymakers should know that people are tired of gotcha medical bills. A system where people choose to go without necessary care because they're afraid of what it will cost is a system that badly needs to be fixed."

—Rachael Ellison