Few people would think of asking their doctor how much a procedure will cost them before they have it done. Probably fewer have any idea how to go about shopping for a price that won’t bankrupt them.

Using Compass Professional Health Services, a service offered through Holmes Murphy and Associates Inc., they can have someone do that for them.

More than 30 Iowa companies have collectively saved more than $1 million in out-of-pocket medical expenses in the past two years using Compass, said Steve Flood, senior vice president of employee benefits for Holmes Murphy. The West Des Moines-based insurance brokerage began offering the service in 2011 through a wholly owned subsidiary, ACAP Health Consulting.

Employers are increasingly offering cost comparison programs as a way to address rising health-care costs and insurance premiums.

“There are a lot of different programs out there that are transparency tools,” Flood said. “We believe Compass is superior because most other programs are self-service programs, so you don’t have professionals available to help you. That is, I believe, the biggest advantage. You’ve got someone working with you and your providers to make sure you’ve got both the best quality care and the lowest cost.”

Using proprietary software, Compass “health pros” compare costs of local health-care providers and provide users with a summary of estimated charges. They also screen providers to determine that they meet high quality standards, and can also provide recommendations tailored to specific preferences. The health pro can also set up the appointment with the health-care provider and can also serve as a liaison if an employee has questions about his or her treatment, medications or billings.

In Iowa, employees of 33 companies, currently are enrolled in Compass, including Holmes Murphy’s own employees. (Business Publications Corporation Inc., the Business Record’s publisher, has enrolled for 2013).

In the past quarter, Compass assisted nearly 500 employees, which resulted in more than $352,000 in claims savings, or about $700 per employee. Since the program began in Iowa, those employers and employees have saved more than $1.1 million in claims costs and more than $300,000 in productivity savings. From a clinician’s standpoint, transparency in health-care pricing is a good thing, said Ed Brown, CEO of The Iowa Clinic P.C.

“While I am not personally familiar with the Compass program, the use of comparative data can provide useful benchmarking,” he said. “Physician pricing has become standardized over the years by the various payers, so there is much less variability on an individual unit basis. The biggest variable is the utilization of services.” Brown noted that Iowa doctors rank among the most efficient in the country, according to the most recent Dartmouth-Atlas study.

ACAP Health Consulting charges employers a monthly administrative fee of $5 per employee. Every Iowa employer that is currently offering Compass is paying the full cost of the service as an employee benefit, Flood said. So far, no Iowa companies have dropped it.

“The real key is employee engagement,” he said, noting that the level of employee usage among the companies that offer Compass varies significantly. “Employers will have to make the decision whether to continue it if no one is using it.”