Opinion | What to Make of Hospital Price Lists?
To the Editor:
Re “Hospitals Post Their Prices. Just Try to Decipher Them” (news article, Jan. 14):
The recent federal requirement for hospitals to publish price information is an important first step in the journey toward greater price transparency. But because these prices aren’t actually what a patient would pay, the article rightly points out that more must be done to be responsive to patients’ needs and wants.
There are two roads to take, not mutually exclusive. One involves improving this new process — for example, by having uniform standards for how prices are reported across hospitals so that patients are comparing apples to apples when comparison shopping.
Another more long-lasting and effective road is to tackle the underlying roots of the problem, as by doing away with gag clauses in provider-payer contracts that ban sharing of prices with patients or on the price transparency websites of health plans.
While these are more difficult paths, if the final destination is meaningful and useful transparency for patients, then it’s time to hit the road.
The writer is vice president for programs at the New York State Health Foundation.
To the Editor:
Your article outlines how regulations requiring hospitals to post their prices have resulted in data that is incomprehensible and unusable by consumers because of the complexity and inconsistency inherent in our health care system. In fact, this is also the issue with the lack of our system’s cost-effectiveness.
American health care is financed through a free market, which is ineffective in controlling costs because it requires transparency so consumers can compare prices. But the dizzying complexity of both medical care and insurance plan design precludes the consumer from making informed choices.
Primary-care doctors strongly influence choice, and insurance company provider networks limit choices even further.
Rather, single-payer universal health care is quite cost-effective. Expressed as a percentage of gross domestic product, it has proved to be less costly in many other countries. It will wring out the duplicative and wasteful administrative costs of the free marketplace and provide negotiating leverage to stabilize medical provider and pharmacy costs.
A University of Massachusetts study demonstrated that a single-payer system can cover all citizens, including today’s uninsured, eliminating deductibles and co-pays, and still save $592 billion. For employers, reduced absenteeism and increased labor productivity will be an additional cost advantage.
The writer is a former senior director of compensation and benefits, including health plans, for major companies.
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