Patients often receive medical care without ever thinking to ask how much it costs. Patients who do ask sometimes find nobody in their doctor’s office can tell them the price.
That lack of transparency in the health care industry might be one of the many reasons costs are growing out of control. A bill in the Iowa Senate aims to change that, by requiring health care providers to publicly disclose a price list for their most common services.
Price competition is the engine of the free market, helping to drive down costs for consumers. However, those same factors do not always apply in the medical field.
People with insurance sometimes find their list of local choices for a given service is very short, sometimes totaling just one. Even those paying cash might not shop around for lower prices or higher quality, especially if the services they need are nonelective and time-sensitive.
The price transparency legislation sponsored this year by Iowa Sen. Brad Zaun would not be a magic fix for Americans’ exorbitant medical costs. Health care costs depend on a wide array of factors, heavily influenced by negotiated rates paid by insurance companies.
However, more Americans are likely to start shopping around for their health care this year. Republican legislators eliminated the tax penalty for the uninsured, and the Trump administration is easing restrictions on what insurance plans must cover.
The movement to give consumers more information about their own health care costs is a bipartisan effort. The Affordable Care Act, passed by Democrats in 2010, required health insurers to give customers detailed information about services and rate hikes.
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At least 28 other states have some form of a medical price transparency mandate for providers, including all six states bordering Iowa, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Iowa leaders say health care is a priority this year.
“Our health care market is collapsing. It’s unaffordable, it’s unsustainable, and it’s unacceptable. I continue to call on Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but we can’t wait for Congress to fix it,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said during her condition of the state address this month.
We applaud Reynolds’ focus on this important issue, but Iowa can make progress with the Affordable Care Act in place. Price transparency is a good place to start.
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