We have been advocating for greater price transparency in health care for years. We know price transparency isn’t the end; it’s the means to the end of greater choice, accountability, and affordability in health care. Our healthcare markets are dysfunctional and not competitive. We know price transparency is a critical part of fixing this.
Excitingly, lawmakers now seem poised to act. Today Sen. Mike Braun introduced “The PRICE Transparency Act,” which would require hospitals and insurance companies to share the prices of healthcare with patients. Today, many patients get pricing information only after the fact, in an explanation of benefits. We would never agree to this when buying other goods and services. Health care should be no different. We should be able to compare prices and reviews and, when possible, shop around or at least plan for healthcare expenses.
Most healthcare is “shoppable,” meaning it’s not an emergency. Of course, no one expects patients to shop around for healthcare when they are bleeding in the back of an ambulance. But over 90 percent of healthcare spending is on non-emergency care. In fact, the pandemic has revealed what a great share of healthcare is “elective,” meaning not that it’s optional, but that it can be scheduled in advance; it’s not urgent.
President Trump has shown great leadership on price transparency. In fact, he has signed executive orders that mandate the same requirements in The PRICE Transparency Act. But it will be better for patients if these rules are codified by an act of Congress. Executive actions can be reversed by future administrations; laws aren’t so easily undone. And if you think that a future administration would have no reason to reverse healthcare price transparency, you may be underestimating the political influence of the healthcare industry’s powerful lobbying arm.
Price transparency in health care enjoys incredible public support. Fully 88 percent of Americans in a Harvard-Harris poll say they favor requiring it. In these divisive times, leaders would do well to focus on issues like price transparency that bring so many Americans together and have so much potential to help transform health care for the better.