A new rule proposed by the Trump administration would make patients aware of the negotiated prices between insurance companies and health care providers.
Usually that information is a closely guarded secret, with even patients who receive care not knowing how much they will be on the hook for until after the insurer and the provider work out their part.
While health care is often seen as a growing part of the economy and source of high-paying jobs, one of the reasons for that is that patients must sign up to get often expensive care without knowing how much it’s going to cost them. Just think: It would be easier to sell cars if the dealership didn’t have to tell how much they cost and then could bill whatever amount they wanted months after the customer received the car.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump administration’s plan would “arm patients with information needed to make health-care decisions much like shopping for other consumer services.” That includes potentially posting rates on public websites, so patients know how much it will cost — and if it would be cheaper down the street — before stepping into the doctor’s office.
“It’s an effort by the president to help put Americans back in control of price data,” Dr. Don Rucker, national coordinator for health information technology at the Department of Health and Human Services, was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal. “Our interest is on how can we empower the American public to shop for their care and control it.”
The Trump administration already passed a requirement this year that requires hospital companies to publicly release their listed prices. However, without the negotiated rates they have with insurance companies, those listed prices are of little value.
Requests for comments on a proposed rule requiring those actual rates to be disclosed was slipped into a 700-page draft regulation released in February about another topic (improving patients’ access to electronic health records). That may have been a way to try to avoid too much public controversy on a plan that will surely receive strong opposition from the health care lobby, which stands to lose a lot of money from the rule.
But it’s an idea that could have bi-partisan support from both free market proponents in the Republican party — who tend to believe more information for consumers leads to more efficient economic outcomes — and patient rights proponents in Democratic Party — who tend to side with the little guy over big corporations. It’s a correction that is needed to get health care costs, which are a major contributor to the national debt because of government insurance programs, under control.