Not even your surgeon knows how much your treatment costs. Kaiser Health News reports on a new survey in Health Affairs that found that a group of 503 surgeons were only able to guess the cost of implantable medical devices 21 percent of the time. More:
“In orthopedic surgery, we’re never told how much things cost. We never see the cost displayed anywhere, and even if you were interested, there’s no great way to find it,” says Dr. Kanu Okike, lead author of the Health Affairs study and an orthopedic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center in Honolulu (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente).
We’ve known for a long time that hospitals keep prices from consumers, but we talk less about the fact that hospitals do the same thing to the doctors and care providers themselves. Is there any other industry where neither the consumers nor the providers know how much a service costs? This is especially relevant because a lot of health care reforms place their hopes in the ability of providers to economize on care on behalf of the patient. Many reform ideas include incentives designed to encourage doctors to pass on savings to the patients, but if the doctors themselves don’t know the costs involved, they can’t be expected to make good decisions about price/quality tradeoffs. The solution is to introduce radical new transparency into the system. U.S. health care will never function optimally without that, no matter what other reforms we put in place.