The future of price transparency

By Zack Budryk

It's up to the industry to overcome price transparency obstacles to promote meaningful healthcare reform, experts say. Even as health officials and providers work to make price information public, an April poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found about two thirds of the 1,506 respondents had trouble finding healthcare price information.

So how can the healthcare industry step up its transparency efforts? The changing market will aid the transition, according to Richard L. Gundling, vice president of healthcare financial practices at the Healthcare Financial Management Association. "The continual drumbeat that they're doing, it's going to grow as high-deductible health plans become the norm," he told FierceHealthFinance. "I think as people's out-of-pocket cost is growing, I think the way that the price factors into that is going to grow, so I think they'll be making more and more use of that."

A March report from Public Agenda identified several key priorities for price transparency going forward, including increased capacity to provide price information and help so consumers understand pricing variations; indeed, the report found 57 percent of insured consumers were not aware providers often charge different amounts for the same procedures.

Although healthcare providers increasingly see price transparency as a major priority, they can't solve transparency problems on their own, according to Elizabeth Mitchell (pictured), president and CEO of the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement.

"We've had physicians come to us saying that patients are asking them for this information and they feel that it's part of their responsibility to be able to provide it, but they rarely have it," she told FierceHealthFinance. "I think if episode costs or procedure costs were available transparently to physicians and to patients, they would use that information to make decisions together."

Consumers, for their part, favor increased government intervention to solve the price transparency puzzle going forward. A 2014 poll by Consumers Union found 80 percent of respondents endorsed uniform pricing for common procedures and services, Betsy Imholz, Consumers Union's director of special projects, told FierceHealthFinance last December.

The movement for price transparency, she said, needs clear, overarching goals when and if it reaches a significant scale. "It could be to move the marketplace, by reducing variations of pricing through competition, or shopping for value, or creating a better informed policy such as reference pricing," she said.

"We're all new at this but the good news is it's starting to progress, identifying fixes to some of the challenges we're facing with some of the claims data," Cari Frank (pictured left), director of communications and marketing for the Center for Improving Value in Health Care, a Colorado nonprofit dedicated to advancing Triple Aim-related initiatives told FierceHealthFinance

"That's going to grow overtime as we're able to work through some of these data challenges that we have," she said. 

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The future of price transparency