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Patients Have a Right to Know What Health Care Really Costs

Information is power, and in the hands of consumers it will transform the quality and price of health care.

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That's the prediction that health care experts made today at a panel discussion sponsored by AARP and the Business Roundtable in Washington.

Consumers have a long way to go before they get easy-to-understand information about the costs of doctors and hospitals and the quality of care they provide. So far, information has been hard to come by, and interested parties have resisted transparency. In April, for instance, for the first time, Medicare  released information on payments to individual doctors - despite longtime opposition from the American Medical Association.

The push continues to make more information available to consumers so they can make smarter choices about their care.

"The consumer will change everything," says Leah Binder, president and CEO of the  Leapfrog Group, which rates hospitals. "Consumer demand is a force like nothing we have seen."

Employers, patients and others have long been concerned about the costs of health care. At the same time, a growing number of consumers are enrolling in high-deductible health plans (in which they pay more out-of-pocket costs upfront), and as a result, they are becoming savvier shoppers, Binder says. They are now asking questions such as, "How much does a treatment cost, and what are patients getting for that money?" she notes.

"Public availability of price information can be a two-edged sword," says  Peter Orszag, a vice chairman of Citigroup Inc. and former director of the Office of Management and Budget.  "You can facilitate collusion" in which hospitals, say, work together to raise prices.

Overall, though, Orszag says he's optimistic about the impact of transparency on medical care.

"The next decade in health care will be transformational," he says. "The health care system in 2020 will be a much better system."


Photo: Andreiorlov/istockphoto 

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