By Elise Viebeck - 05/14/14 08:38 AM EDT
Three major health insurance companies have agreed to publish their healthcare prices in a free online portal starting next year.
The unprecedented move is designed to boost transparency in the U.S. healthcare system, notorious for its hard-to-access and seemingly random prices.
The nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) will create and administer the online portal in partnership with Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare.
Other insurers are expected to join the initiative soon, HCCI said.
"Consumers, employers and regulatory agencies will now have a single source of consistent, transparent health care information based on the most reliable data available, including actual costs, which only insurers currently have," said HCCI Executive Director David Newman in a statement.
"Voluntarily making this information available will be of immeasurable value to consumers and other health system participants as they seek to manage the cost and quality of care," Newman said.
The online tool will include aggregate pricing data from commercial health plans as well as information about Medicare Advantage and Medicaid health plans, if states agree.
The initiative follows two efforts by the Obama administration to publish Medicare cost data for the first time as part of the Affordable Care Act.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a database last year detailing how much most U.S. hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures, and last month, federal health officials published Medicare billing records for about 880,000 doctors.
The two releases underscored the wide disparities in U.S. healthcare pricing, even within the same region, and the considerable share of Medicare payments that go to only a few providers in the program.