Health Care Price Transparency in Missouri: Part One
What makes health care so different than any other thing you might shop for? Well, it’s different in that you don’t know how much anything is going to cost until after you buy it—it would be like a grocery store without any prices on the shelves. This is obviously ridiculous, so why do we tolerate such practices when it comes to our health?
Health care price transparency was added to the Show-Me Institute’s 2022 blueprint because of its potential to dramatically improve the lives of Missourians. Price transparency arms the health care consumer with greater knowledge about what exactly procedures will cost, what prices insurers negotiate with hospitals, and how the cost of a procedure differs from hospital to hospital. This information should be easily accessible so that someone could do accurate research before ever scheduling a hospital visit.
The main benefit of price transparency is that more information is available to patients, insurers, and employers to aid in decision making. Insurers can use the information to better negotiate prices with hospitals, while patients and employers can use the information to make more informed decisions when purchasing health plans. A price tag attached to a procedure makes it much easier to weigh the costs and benefits of a service, so you know exactly what you are putting in your healthcare shopping cart.
In Missouri, the strictest price transparency rules come at the federal level. Under the guidelines of a Trump administration 2019 executive order, hospitals are required to publish a list of standard charges for 300 common procedures in a user-friendly, shoppable display. In addition, hospitals must publish a complete list of charges in a machine-readable format. “Machine readable” simply means the information can be downloaded off the hospital website into a file format that your computer could understand—like a Microsoft Excel file, as one example. The files need to include the gross charge, a discounted cash price, any payer-specific negotiated charges, and both the highest and lowest negotiated charge for any given service.
While price transparency reforms such as this one are potentially very beneficial for patients all across the nation, there are problems with compliance. The Wall Street Journal reported that, as of last December, many of the nation’s largest hospital systems were not complying with the 2019 rule, without any penalty from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In the next post, I take a deep dive into Missouri hospitals and their compliance (or lack thereof) with price transparency rules.