The Obama Administration announced this week that it will soon make public data on the practices of 880,000 doctors who participated in Medicare in 2012. The most important part of the data, which could be released early next week, will be the information about Medicare reimbursements for standard procedures.
In the U.S., consumers of care aren’t the true customers of the medical industry because most payments get filtered through third parties. The true customers are the government and private insurers, both of which have access to data about payment rates that ordinary Americans often lack. Reintroducing price signals into the system, even if all the transactions are still mediated through third parties, is important. Medicare reimbursement rates tend to be lower than those of private insurers, so this data will not be a perfect tool for understanding how pricing works. But it does give the average American a ballpark for what procedures cost one of the two big customers in the health care field. And that kind of awareness could over time bring some pressure to bear on prices in general, as people start to wonder if they’re getting the best value for their insurance dollar.
If you need further evidence of why this is important, check out this nugget from the end of the WaPo story on the release:
The American Medical Association expressed reservations, arguing that the information could be misleading and that physicians should be permitted to correct inaccuracies in their records.
The “broad” approach to releasing information could “result in unwarranted bias against physicians that can destroy careers,” the association said in a statement.
The AMA, it should be noted, has been fighting to keep this pricing information secret since the late 1970s. There are some legitimate grounds for this anxiety among doctors, but their concerns are eminently addressable, especially in today’s world where databases can be updated and shared online in real time.
Battles for price transparency are still ongoing throughout the country, from court houses to state houses. Let’s hope they all end like this one did, and soon.