Pressure for health price transparency mounts with new bills

Less than a year after a Florida law made it voluntary for doctors to post price lists in their offices resulted in very few having done so, a new pair of bills up for hearings Wednesday would require many physicians to disclose their prices to patients, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

Under one bill, doctors' offices would have to post signs, showing prices for their 50 most common procedures. Both bills would require doctors to give each patient a price sheet at every visit. In addition, the legislation would force hospital-owned urgent care centers to post whether they charge emergency room prices and give a price break to patients who can't give permission for treatment by a health provider that's not part of their insurance network.

The bills, H.B. 1329, sponsored by Rep. Richard Corcoran (R-Trinity), and S.B. 7186, sponsored by the Senate Health Regulation Committee, chaired by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah), have drawn opposition from healthcare lobbyists who argue the rules are punitive and take money from physicians, according to the newspaper.

As for posting prices, some medical groups claim it isn't sharing the information they object to, but having to pay for the signs that also would clutter up their waiting rooms. The argument against the other part of the legislation, which waives extra fees for patients who have no control over where they are treated--such as when taken to an out-of-network emergency room while unconscious--is that insurers would be excused from paying the fees, as well. Thus, the legislation essentially takes money out of providers' pockets, according to the Florida Medical Association. In turn, doctors may cease seeing out-of-network patients if the bills pass, according to the Association.

A recent Bloomberg Business News column by Peter Orszag, vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup Inc. and a former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration, contends that few government price-transparency efforts, thus far, have resulted in patients becoming smarter consumers. A better approach, he wrote, may be found in the example of Castlight Health Inc., which provides individual, private information to employers about their employees' out-of-pocket health costs. By keeping the data unavailable to the public, the Castlight approach also may reduce the likelihood that greater price transparency would lead to collusion among providers, he said.

To learn more:
- read the article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
- see the column from Bloomberg Business News