By Conor McCue

(CBS4) – A pair of college students from Monument are on a mission to make finding affordable health care as easy as possible. Just a month ago, the two launched the site Price Medic, a database of prices for procedures at hundreds of hospitals.

If the labors of college aren’t already enough, Katelynn Salmon and Josh Nakka keep piling on.

“It’s sort of like a second full time job for both of us,” Salmon said.

The high school classmates are the founders of Price Medic, an idea born after insurance wouldn’t cover Salmon’s family member’s surgery earlier this year.

“My family really struggled with, one, trying to figure out which hospitals would offer the procedure she needed, and two, how much that was going to cost us since we would be paying out of pocket,” Salmon said.

Since then, Salmon, a student at Rice University, and Nakka, a student at Johns Hopkins University, have compiled price data from hospitals across Colorado and Georgia for everything from invasive surgeries to blood work. On Wednesday, data from California will go live on the site as well.

This weekend the pair showed CBS4 the differences in prices for a mammogram in the Denver metro area. Prices ranged from $139 to $2,835.

“The big thing we noticed is the extreme variation in prices within the same area,” said Nakka. “A simple procedure can range from $100 to $1,000 and just be within 15 miles.”

Salmon and Nakka’s effort is made more possible than ever before now that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires hospitals make prices clear and accessible. The new law went into effect this January.

“Since hospitals change their prices, all of these hospitals have to live update, so we had to make sure we were getting the data live from the sites and not just manually downloading everyone’s procedure prices,” Nakka said.

What started as a summer project has now seen more than 15,000 searches from more than 11,000 unique users, although not every hospital can be found just yet.

“About 10% of hospitals, we’ve found from our experiences looking at Colorado, Georgia and California, don’t have data files at all,” said Salmon.

The two friends see each price they can post as an opportunity to lower barriers for affordable care.

“I think something that has really struck me as I’ve gotten older is the amount of people in this country going without health care that is a necessity to them because of how much it cost,” said Salmon.

“Now, we’re really hoping you can know that bill or have an estimate of it up front before you go to the hospital,” Nakka said.

Next year, CMS will require certain health plans disclose their in-network provider prices online, and Price Medic plans to add that along with hospital data from more states.

Long term, Salmon and Nakka hope to create a portal where private practices, dentists and others who aren’t required to make prices public can self-report.

Conor McCue