The way Colin Cooper sees it, people are willing to drive miles out of their way to save a few bucks on gas. Why wouldn't they do the same for health care?

So the CEO of Eastford, Conn.-based Whitcraft, an aerospace component manufacturer, figures his 500 employees will probably be willing to go to a hospital, radiology practice or lab recommended by their health plan if they can take home an extra $50 or $100 for doing so.

In the process, he hopes his company will trim its health care costs.

Cooper's company is about to begin a pilot program called Compass SmartShopper that's offered by its health plan, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut.

The program pays cash rewards, usually about $100, when employees go to cheaper providers than the ones their physician recommends. Nearly 40 services are covered, including mammograms and colonoscopies, knee replacements and cataract surgery. The program is voluntary, and there are no penalties if employees stick with the physician-referred providers.

Like many employers, Whitcraft is self-funded, meaning it pays its employees health care claims directly.

In the face of rising health care costs, "We need to change consumption behaviors," says Cooper. "We need to get people consuming health care the same way they consume everything else."

The cost of an MRI, for example, might vary in pricefrom $750 to $2,000, depending on where someone goes, says Rob Graybill, president of Compass Healthcare Advisers, which manages the SmartShopper program for Anthem.

Some doctors have expressed reservations about the price-driven program, which doesn't factor in quality measures, such as complication rates, into its recommendations. "The issue of quality should always be first and foremost," says Scott Colby, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Medical Society.

Copyright 2016 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit Kaiser Health News.