Millennials are in a tough financial situation. Not only do they have the most student loan debt, but also they are earlier on in their careers and their salaries reflect that. Young adults need to be able to plan ahead for large bills, more so than older generations. With that, I would argue that most millennials are ill-prepared for a sudden medical cost. With price transparency, we would be able to budget our health related expenses into our month-to-month savings.
In a true free market, consumers (patients) would be able to shop around and leverage competition within the market to get the best deal on their service. Stephanie Armour in the Wall Street Journal, explains, “Consumers are often required to pay more out of pocket without the price information they need to comparison shop.” With full disclosure of price, there is no knowledge gap between producers and consumers and this could ultimately lower the price of care.
Price transparency simply means knowing the total cost of medical care before any procedures. President Trump recently teased a “very important health care bill” that will “bring transparency to it all” at a White House event on surprise billing.
Millennials need to be able to avoid surprise medical billing, I can tell you that from experience. The first four months of this year was filled with many appointments, a surgery, and the expensive bills to match. This is my timeline and all the times price transparency would have helped patients like me:
I was suffering with a sinus infection, something an allergy sufferer like me is very familiar with. It was New Years Eve and my primary care doctor was closed so I went to a local emergency care clinic that took my insurance, had my walk-in consultation, and only had to pay a small co-pay. Months later I was billed just under $700 for this routine visit without warning. Had I known how costly this clinic would be, I could have waited a few days to visit my regular doctor and saved hundreds of dollars.
The infection triggered a benign lump on my neck to enlarge over the next few months. (To spare the details, I urge those interested to look up “Branchial Cleft Cyst”.) First, my doctor ordered an ultrasound. As I signed in for my appointment at a hospital I did not choose, I was pulled aside to the financial consultation office and asked to meet my entire deductible before the examination. This was within the first few month of the year so I had to pay the majority of my deductible on the spot. Over $400 due was that day, again, without warning. If I had known this was their policy, and had been clued in on the deal between my insurance and the hospital, I could have been more prepared for this charge.
The next step was an MRI. I knew this would be expensive, and this time I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I asked the technicians how much the imaging would cost–they had no answer. Months later I found out the hard way when I was billed just under $900, a high enough cost that the employees should have been able to tell me. This bill was larger than my rent payment and without transparency between the doctors and I, I was the one left to foot this bill on my own.
I had to see specialists all over the state (and paying their bills) to figure out what this lump was until my doctors concluded it needed to be removed. The surgery happened just over a month and a half ago and I am now fearful of opening my mailbox. There is no telling what I will be charged and it is making it hard for me to budget, knowing I will be responsible for this unknown amount in the coming weeks.
This experience has taught me a lot about the healthcare system: I learned that I don’t get to make informed decisions to save myself money. I learned I don’t get to choose treatment centers that match my price range. I learned that there will be no warnings for large bills, and that the professionals won’t be able to tell you an exact number. The system is broken.
Young or old, price transparency can bring freedom of choice to the healthcare market. Interested in learning more? Click here.