New law allows patients to price shop before accessing care

A Wisconsin bill signed into law on Tuesday forces providers to reveal the median costs of such common test and procedures. Signed by Gov. Jim Doyle, the Health Care Transparency Bill will give patients a better idea of their out-of-pocket costs and effectively enables them to price shop, he said.

"Nowhere else are people asked to buy a product before they know what the price is," Doyle said in a statement. The new law "will help people better understand what their health care costs are before making important health care decisions."

However, health care providers who already have transparent pricing mechanisms in place aren't pleased with the law, reports the Badger Herald.

"It's more bureaucracy piled onto the healthcare system at a time when we're trying to reduce costs,"Daryl Applebury, CFO of Gundersen Lutheran Health Services, told the newspaper.

With more horror stories cropping up about egregious medical billing mistakes, the law could be a harbinger for similar nationwide action. For example, Bloomberg last week reported on a man in Philadelphia who, before succumbing to cancer in 2007, was billed $27,360 by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for $6,665.40 worth of the cancer drug Avastin. 

ABC News reported this week about a woman with breast cancer who was told by her hospital that a lumpectomy would cost $5,000, but then was charged nearly $13,000. The woman hired a medical billing advocate, who found close to $7,000 in bad charges, which the hospital eventually eliminated. The Medical Billing Advocates of America says that 80 percent of hospital bills contain errors, according to ABC. 

In some cases, patients are taking the initiative to determine health costs. PriceDoc.com, a transparent healthcare pricing service, announced on Tuesday that patients have used the company's website to perform more than "one million searches for medical and dental procedures." 

To learn more:

- read this article in The Business Journal of Milwaukee
- read the Badger Herald report
- here's a press release about the bill
- here's the ABC News article
- check out the Bloomberg story
- read PriceDoc.com's press release

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