Contest gets doctors, patients thinking about healthcare costs


It seems everyone has a tale about a medical bill gone bad -- an inpatient procedure, pre-approved by insurance, that becomes a multi-thousand-dollar headache because of a clerical error; an unnecessary test, ordered by a doctor, that isn’t reimbursed.

Now you can get paid for sharing your story: Costs of Care, a nonprofit that seeks to make healthcare providers more cost-aware, is sponsoring an essay contest. Patients and doctors are urged to send in submissions that illustrate routine opportunities for physicians to curb unnecessary spending and improve care, said Neel Shah, executive director of the group.

Shah, who is also a third-year obstetrics and gynecology resident at the Harvard Medical School, founded Costs of Care after he began thinking, as a med student, that physicians had a good deal of power over healthcare costs but rarely thought about them. “There’s a lot of talk about insurers and patients, but at the end of the day doctors decide what’s on the bill,” he said.


Some opportunities became apparent last year during Costs of Care’s first essay contest, when 115 submissions from providers and patients described a variety of mistakes. A vascular surgeon in Arizona, for example, wrote about a time a hospital assigned an out-of-network anesthesiologist to a surgery, sending a patient’s bill skyrocketing. “There was no mechanism to make sure all of the providers a patient uses were in network,” Shah said. “That’s a simple check.”

This year, Shah said, the organization is looking for essays that offer solutions for such problems. Judges will include Peter Orszag, former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; breast cancer expert Dr.Susan Love; and Harvard provost Alan Garber, a health economist. The contest will award four prizes of $1,000 -- two for patients and two for providers.

Submissions should be no longer than 750 words. The deadline is Nov. 15. Further details are available here. Essays from last year’s contest are available here.