Make Hospital Care Prices Transparent

363

One of America’s biggest problems is health costs. High health costs are destroying family incomes, cause the bankruptcy of Americans, and discourage citizens. Americans have gotten used to high bills for the simplest of hospital visits. Fortunately, there is a solution called price transparency and it may be enacted as part of the next coronavirus-relief package.

Since hospitals and insurers cooperate in hiding the real amount of health costs, patients never know what they will be paying in advance. That is why nine US senators introduced the Health Care PRICE Transparency Act in June. The bill orders hospitals and insurers to provide discounted prices and negotiated rates, and to let the public know how they calculate those rates. Such an act would offer Americans a decent measure of certainty in hard times.


There have been stories of surprise bills and inflated, unaccountable costs that destroyed ­patients financially. One of those is obviously the COVID-19 pandemic.

All the tests you need

Melissa Szymanski had one of those experiences. She went to a Hartford, Conn., hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. The hospital denied her a COVID-19 test for no reason. ­Instead, she said: “I received an EKG, chest X-ray, flu test, urine pregnancy test, and IV fluids. My diagnosis: potential COVID.”

The hospital asked her for $3,200 to cover five hours in the emergency room. After it took her weeks to fight fraudulent, improperly coded bills, that her insurance company denied accepting as COVID-related, because Melissa was never actually tested for COVID-19. As Melissa shared, “it shouldn’t have to be this hard. If I knew the price in advance, I would be informed and able to decline tests that are ­unnecessary.”

There is no question the American people need health-care price transparency. According to a survey, 90 percent of Americans support the government demanding hospitals and insurance companies ­reveal their discounted prices, and negotiated rates.

There is no need for health costs to be secret. There is price transparency at the grocery stores, gas stations, and when paying rent. For some unknown reason, hospitals and insurers have tricked us into not expecting the same level of transparency when it comes to medical bills.

Secret health prices enable price-gouging, over-billing, and waste 

Price transparency would also decrease systemic costs that have been one of the goals of US health reform for decades. A similar process worked out well in other industries when Travelocity and Carfax improved transparency in the travel and used-car industries. When there is price transparency then customers can compare alternatives and choose the products and services most suitable for their needs and budget.

 

According to critics of price transparency, it is almost impossible to compare health prices. But that ignores the power of proxy shoppers: When you allow even a small slice of consumers to shop around then the prices stay low for ­everyone.