Fixing a key piece of the health care puzzle
© Getty Images

Never before in human history have we had so much information for so little cost. Type a word or idea into Google and in .05 seconds, you’ll see over seven million results. If information is power, then it would appear that American consumers have never been as powerful than in the present moment.

So why then do the costs of medical procedures and treatments remain a mystery? Prices are available for almost everything else except when it comes to our own health care. Patients are required to know the risks before consenting to any given medical procedure but are often forced to make significant decisions about their health care without any idea of the cost. Anyone who has ever tried to decipher a medical bill understands how powerless its complexity can make you feel.

ADVERTISEMENT
Our bipartisan legislation, the Transparent Health Care Pricing Act of 2018, aims to change this by requiring public disclosure for costs of products, services, and procedures. We believe patients should have the information they need in order to make informed decisions about their health care—and research shows Americans want to know more about how much their health care costs. A national survey by the nonpartisan organization Public Agenda found that 63 percent of Americans don’t believe there is enough information about how much medical services cost.

There are a variety of proposals to improve our health care system, but price transparency is one of the ways to address a core problem – rising health care costs. Americans spent a total of $3.3 trillion on health care in 2016 – an average of $10,348 per person. That’s a significant amount of money for the average American family, and yet many of us don’t know the breakdown of expenses or have a choice of spending less on one procedure, or more on another. Moreover, the same or a similar procedure can cost dramatically different prices for no apparent reason.

In 2015, a peer-reviewed journal focused on health policy and research released a study showing the average facility cost per maternity stay ranged from $1,189 to $11,986. That’s a big difference in price for a common service for many hardworking families. Consumers should have this type of information beforehand so they can compare prices and make the best choice for their families and pocketbooks.

In 2003, a majority of Wisconsin hospitals began voluntarily sharing the cost and quality of the care provided in their facilities. A Kaiser Health News report showed “it created a constituency of informed consumers who were now armed with data that allowed them to pressure local hospitals to improve their performance.”  Americans deserve to have all the information necessary to make educated decisions. Informing and empowering consumers is a step in the right direction to improve our health care system.

Clear and easy-to-understand pricing will increase competition, and competition will bring down health care costs for everyone, while increasing accountability and promoting high-quality services. For many, keeping up with medical expenses or making decisions about health care can be difficult enough. It’s time to take some of the guess work out of it by requiring transparency in all health care pricing. By doing so, we can give the power in our health care system back to the patients, where it belongs.

Gallagher represents Wisconsin’s 8th District and Perlmutter represent Colorado’s 7th District.