Policy-ish

What You Can Do For Health Care This Weekend? Fix It

Looking for something to do over the Labor Day weekend?

Pencil, paper and  a to-do list.
iStockphoto.com

Why not try to solve the nation's problem with health care costs? There could be a thousand bucks in it for you.

That's the prize in an essay contest being launched next week by a nonprofit group that wants doctors and other health care workers to be more mindful of the costs of medical tests and other procedures they order.

The group, called Costs of Care, was founded by Dr. Neel Shah, a graduate of Brown Medical School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government now doing a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Shah, like many young doctors, worries that medical professionals are too often taught medicine in a vacuum — they learn what to do, but not how much things cost.

"Given that medical bills are the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcy in this country, and that doctors are the ones that decide what goes on the bill, it makes sense for doctors to be more cost-aware," says Shah.

And that's the goal of the group — to provide doctors, particularly those in the emergency room, with the cost of tests and treatment they are likely to order.

So back to that contest: There will be two categories (and two $1,000 prizes); one for patients, and one for clinicians (including doctors, nurses, medical students).

Judges will include former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, Boston surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande, and former Massachusetts Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Michael Dukakis.

They're looking for stories about the effect of medical costs on care, including bills that were higher than expected, or a time when a patient or doctor wanted to find out how much something cost, but couldn't.

Essays should be no longer than 750 words. Winners will be announced later this year.

There's no cost to enter the contest. Natch.

Who's sponsoring it? Well, three big insurers — Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare, Tufts Health Plan and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts — and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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