Colorado’s big idea for lowering health care prices is more transparency. Here’s why some think that won’t work.
Could a new bill that requires hospitals to reveal all their pricing secrets actually cause prices to rise?
Let’s say you need a colonoscopy. (Sorry about that.)
And let’s also say you know there’s one hospital in Colorado that quotes a price of more than $5,000 for the procedure and several that quote a price of around $1,500 and a couple more that come in with prices under $1,000.
Would you choose to have your colonoscopy done at the least-expensive hospital?
The answer may seem simple enough. But it actually illustrates the challenges facing one of the most popular ideas this year at the state Capitol for dealing with soaring health care costs — the idea that if patients better know the prices, they will make cheaper choices.
“Health care shouldn’t be a black box,” Caitlin Westerson, the policy manager of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, said during a legislative hearing this year for a bill on prescription drug prices.
But, in health care, knowing the sticker price doesn’t always help in understanding what you’ll actually pay. All sorts of factors can intervene — such as where you live and how far you are willing to drive for care or whether you have insurance and whether your insurer contracts for special prices at only certain hospitals. And the flat price doesn’t tell you anything about the track record of a hospital in performing the procedure.
“The bottom line is transparency is not the magic bullet everyone has been hoping it is,” said Joe Hanel, a spokesman for the nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute, which has studied the issue. “It’s just not possible for a lot of your health care expenses to be bought and sold in the same way that you would a washer/dryer or a TV.”
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