WA moves closer to passing price transparency law

Washington State lawmakers passed two bills aimed to significantly expand price transparency for patients, the Seattle Times reported.

One bill requires insurers to make cost and quality information available directly to patients via smartphone and tablet apps, which Gov. Jay Inslee will likely sign, according to the Seattle Times. Another bill would create a statewide database with both quality and some price information.

"Your goal is to change people's behavior. You want to show them this is what things cost," state Sen. Mark Mullet, a Democrat, told the Seattle Times. "People will start to be more engaged, and shop on price. It's the only sector of the economy where people don't know what things cost until they do the procedure."

Although Washington State received a sizable federal grant to compile pricing information last year, insurers resisted implementation of a statewide price database because they usually negotiate confidential rates with hospitals.

Healthcare price transparency on the state level has met a variety of roadblocks. In Maine, which has an online comprehensive price database, requires patients receive prices in advance of undergoing a procedure. However, few patients were actually able to obtain prices in the first few months after the law went into effect, WGME News reported. Residents in Massachusetts have had similar issues obtaining clear price data under a law that is on the books.

A price list kept on the hospital premises would be the size of a telephone book, according to the Maine Hospital Association (MHA). Furthermore, MHA spokesman Jeff Austin suggested that there is a downside to transparency. "If you're a hospital with a high number of Medicaid patients, you're losing money on every one of those patients. In order to stay solvent, you need to raise your prices on the commercial market," he told WGME News.

To learn more:
- read the Seattle Times article
- here's the WGME News article