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Price Transparency Coming to US Health Care?

Change may finally be coming to medical pricing in the U.S. About two dozen leaders of hospitals, policy centers, insurance companies, and data analysis firms have signed onto a new report recommending concrete ways to make progress on price transparency. In recent years, the idea of getting all these different stakeholders to come together and talk about price transparency has seemed like a pipe dream. That these participants have finally convened to talk about the issue is a welcome sign that pressure is mounting to open up U.S. health care prices to public scrutiny.

Given the failing grades most U.S. states routinely receive when it comes to price transparency, the report’s recommendations are most welcome. But the WaPo points out, they might not go nearly far enough:

To give a sense of just how murky health pricing can be, one of the group’s recommendations is for providers to offer uninsured patients their estimated cost for a standard procedure and to make clear how complications could increase the price. You would think that shouldn’t be too hard — there’s no insurer to deal with, no contracts to consult.

But previous research points out just how difficult it can be to get the price for a basic, uncomplicated procedure. In a study published this past December, researchers found that just three out of 20 hospitals could say how much an uninsured person should expect to pay for a simple test measuring heartbeat rate.

Clearly there are structural problems here that no report can begin to fix. Price transparency is central to improving the health care system, but we also need to spend time thinking seriously about how we deliver, package, and sell care. The sooner we can stop debating the access issues that wonks fixate over and switch the conversation to cost control measures, the better chance we will have of keeping health care from bankrupting the country.

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