Trump Pushes for Price Transparency

July 30, 2019

In June, President Trump signed an executive order requiring price transparency in health care. He is quoted as saying “Hospitals will be required to publish prices that reflect what people pay for services,” in an NPR article on the topic.  Trump continues in his signature style “You will get great pricing. Prices will come down by numbers that you wouldn’t believe. The cost of healthcare will go way, way down.” 

Unfortunately, the details are murky, with the order leaving the Department of Health and Human Services to develop the specifics which would then be turned turn into official rules.  At a high level, the intent is to give patients access to information required to make an informed decision as they would with any other purchase. As such, the administration would have hospitals provide actual prices which patients and insurers pay and also for the providers/insurers to identify expected out-of-pocket costs for patients.

As would be expected, various interest groups that take strong positions pro and con, opine that the proposal would either facilitate a true free market in healthcare, or conversely ultimately drive up prices. 

EHC NOTE: Like many ideas emanating from Washington, transparency in healthcare pricing is a reasonable concept.  Who can argue that patients (consumers) should not know what they are going to be asked to pay for services?  However, like other government constructs, we struggle to see how this would be applied in our day-to-day operating room realities.  Sure, there are some procedures which are fairly consistent and can be priced accurately (such as joint replacements), and others which may be paid as a flat fee for certain insurers (such as labor epidurals).  But many procedures can take unexpected twists, or by their nature be unknown (exploratory laparotomy). How do unanticipated events or complications necessitating additional care – and cost – get priced in advance?  If patients are to be given a menu of potential complications and their cost, it would be daunting to create and could lead to some very long preop discussions.

While we applaud the efforts from the administration and certainly join the President in striving for “great healthcare”, we think that any price transparency proposals should be pulled from the theoretical world of DC and discussed with folks on the front lines of healthcare … before being trotted out to the public.