There has been a slow, but steady movement to bring greater transparency into the healthcare market to afford patients a means to evaluate quality and value of the services they receive. It is astonishing in this day and age that most patients can’t estimate what a given procedure or treatment costs or what they will likely have to pay out of pocket. Imagine walking into your grocery store and having no general idea what a gallon of milk will cost or what a loaf of bread will total? That would be absurd, and yet that is the situation we are in when it comes to healthcare.
So what has been done to date? Back in 2009, Congress referred H.R. 2566 into committee; the bill would require public disclosure of hospital pricing for services and drugs. A year later, a grander initiative called H.R.4700 (Transparency in All Health Care Pricing Act of 2010) was also sent to committee, and mandates all healthcare providers and manufacturers to publicly issue their prices for services, procedures, and products. There are a few other measures aimed at transparency too (H.R. 4803, H.R. 2249). While the goal was to merge these bills into one effective measure, there doesn’t seem to have been much movement. However, in a bold stroke of bi-partisan collaboration, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Paul Ryan have agreed on a slew of Medicare reforms in their bill which includes a competitive bidding process as a lever of cost control. This may be the model that helps get wider healthcare pricing transparency accomplished.
Some states aren’t waiting for federal action. In 2008, South Dakota expanded the pricing on its website for its hospitals, presenting the median prices for the most popular 25 inpatient procedures at each of its state hospitals. Not to be outdone, Nevada passed a series of measures last summer requiring hospitals to post information regarding infection incidents, sentinel events, and patient re-admission rates. Nevada’s actions followed on the heels of a five-part investigative series from the Las Vegas Sun newspaper which exposed how patient health was imperiled by the lack of candor. (Read the series here ). The bottom line is that in Nevada the public will be able to compare hospital quality, and it means that hospitals and doctors will have to reduce medical mistakes to lower costs.
Want to help? Start by asking your Congressional representative how he or she will help get H.R. 4700 passed; find your rep here. The progressive efforts of South Dakota and Nevada show that we can create laws that force greater transparency in healthcare pricing. Together, we can let in the light and see better healthcare for ourselves.