Guest Columnist

Ernst: Transparency in health care comes at no cost to taxpayers

Iowans should be able to access information about the costs associated with their health care in advance

Medical bills cover a kitchen table. (Willian DeShazer/McClatchy/TNS)
Medical bills cover a kitchen table. (Willian DeShazer/McClatchy/TNS)

Iowans across the state have visited with me about their concerns when it comes to the lack of transparency in health care. Karen Kubby, a small-business owner in Iowa City, was charged $4,700 after a routine CT scan. “It really took me back and took my breath away,” she said.

And Karen’s not alone. Moms and dads, children, students, seniors, you name it — all may face that scary moment of walking into a hospital, worried about their health or the health of their loved one, and on top of that, not knowing how much a medical treatment might cost. And this comes at a time when Iowans are facing new financial and health challenges and decisions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s simple: Iowans should be able to access information about the costs associated with their health care in advance, so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and their families. And there’s one way, right now, to make that happen: the Health Care PRICE Transparency Act.

Requiring hospitals to reveal their discounted prices and insurers to show their internal negotiated rates will empower patients, increase transparency, and ultimately lower health care costs.

This administration has taken good steps to improve access to information. Last November, the Trump administration issued two separate regulations requiring price transparency for hospitals and health insurance companies. But as it is with any administrative action, it can be overturned by the courts or with future administrations.

That’s why it’s important Congress takes action to make price transparency a reality for folks. The ability to know before you go, will shed light on high-priced providers so that folks can better avoid them, in the same way as any price-gouging business in the rest of the country. This also will encourage more competition and put downward pressure on ridiculous health care prices, which threaten lives by dissuading Americans from seeking care.

Every dollar that’s not spent to support the health care industrial complex, which takes nearly one in every five dollars of the national GDP — is one that can otherwise be spent in our economy. By allowing employers, who provide health care coverage for around 181 million Americans, to steer their employees to less expensive providers, price transparency can generate higher net earnings that can go toward wage increases and rehiring Iowa workers. And the savings by these patients? It can go right back toward supporting their Main Street businesses.

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At a time when our economy needs a boost, health care price transparency could help with that. And the best part? This relief wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. This is a reform that Congress — and all Americans concerned about outrageous deficits and health care spending — should support. Iowans deserve to know the price of care and coverage, so they can make the best health care decisions for themselves and their families when so many are struggling to make ends meet.

Joni Ernst of Red Oak is a Republican U.S. senator.

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