Transparency and the need for it in different industries is a word and requirement we hear a lot about. It should not surprise anyone that some insurers and hospital groups are working to block the implementation of federal rules that make hospital pricing transparent. They argue these will confuse consumers and potentially lead to higher costs. But there is good news. According to the New York Times, a federal judge has upheld a Trump administration policy that requires hospitals and health insurers to publish their negotiated prices for health services, numbers that are typically kept secret.
Most of us have our health insurance provided by our employers and we do not pay as much attention to the price of medical care as we do the cost of other consumer items. But maybe we should pay more attention? The fact that the charges for our visits to the doctor, hospital and pharmacist are mostly paid for by our insurance does not make us any less likely to get both overcharged and underserved. In fact, it is a lack of transparency that makes medical costs so high.
The issue is that patients do not know the actual price of services. The list price is the price charged to patients without insurance. Each Insurance company negotiates a discounted price. Thus there are multiple discounted prices depending on the insurance company plus a different price for Medicare and Medicaid. These prices have traditionally been secret. There is no competition between hospitals based on price. Medicare sets the price standard based on costs. Thus, hospitals are cost plus operations with little incentive to reduce costs.
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