Here’s a simple question: If a consumer can’t learn how much something costs before buying it, do you think prices are more likely to increase or decrease? The answer is obvious, yet when it comes to health care policymakers often pretend otherwise.

This week, Dr. Keith Smith and I had the unique opportunity to visit the White House and witness President Trump take boldexecutive action to put Americans back in charge of their health care by promoting true price transparency.

President Trump’s executive order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to require hospitals and insurance companies to share their negotiated service prices with the public. That will allow Oklahomans to see what providers plan to charge patients before they undergo certain procedures or routine services.

That’s in marked contrast to the typical scenario facing consumers today. As many Oklahomans know, getting an advance cost estimate from a hospital or a doctor’s office for many routine services is often an endurance contest with no guarantee one will ever reach the finish line.

One can spend hours on the phone only to hear a lamenting administrator insist they can’t share the negotiated price until after a procedure is performed. It’s not until weeks after a hospital visit that most folks receive an outrageous bill that supposedly takes into account the “discount” for using an in-network doctor.

The use of convoluted pricing and payment schemes that keep consumers in the dark contribute to higher health care costs and health insurance premiums. It’s a system in which providers can increase prices simply because they can, as advocates on both the political left and right have noted. The overview of a recentreport from the liberal Center for American Progress bluntly declares, “The hospital industry is profiting from soaring rates charged to privately insured patients.”

There’s a better way: price transparency. President Trump’s promising executive order moves the country in that direction. And, as co-managing partner at the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, Dr. Smith and his colleagues have proven that true price transparency works.

In 2009, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma was one of the first facilities to voluntarily post its all-inclusive, bundled prices for all procedures online. In some instances, the facility charges patients 10 times less for certain procedures than surrounding “non-profit” hospitals in the Oklahoma City area.

Innovation and transparent price competition in health care — not increased government spending — remain the best way to ensure Oklahomans receive the highest quality care at the best price. 

 

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).