We have heard a lot about transparency in health care over the past few years. We have had numerous reports illuminate the various areas of our health care system from quality to cost and back again with each getting us closer to reforming our health care system.
One area that has remained elusive, however, is that of basic cost of procedures and treatments. The Attorney General’s Health Care Cost Trends and Cost Drivers Report, discussed some of this information in aggregate, providing a world of new information for policymakers and consumers. Karen Pollitz, formerly of Georgetown and now of HHS, has argued for years that there should be medical facts labels, including price, so patients can see what they are getting into (similar to nutrition facts on food).
As we gear up for the next step in payment reform, Dr. Michael Collins of UMass Medical School has picked up this specific theme in transparency. In an op-ed in the Worcester T&G, he calls on all providers and insurers to let us know what they charge for procedures and treatments. He argues that patients need this information to make decisions and we all need this information to control costs. His bold statement, stripping confidentiality from provider-insurer contracting, would be remarkably different from how providers and payers behave now. Contracts and negotiations are shrouded in mystery and fiercely protected to preserve competitive advantages for all parties involved.
It is clear from the Attorney General’s Report that this information is incredibly valuable for policymakers and stakeholders as we take our next steps. The Senate President’s short-term cost containment legislation which passed yesterday expands on the public information. It is a little bit less clear how this information could best be used to engage patients appropriately- it hasn’t been done before so we have no critical analysis to rely on yet.
We know what we would like to see, though: This information should be connected to easy to understand quality data- similar to the QCC’s website, but with more detail. It should be in writing and should also vetted by independent source. The information should be clear enough on its own so that it does read like a nutrition facts label- one quick glance and you know what you need to know.