Trump's health care transparency order a positive step toward a true patient-controlled system

Trump's health care transparency order a positive step toward a true patient-controlled system
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The lack of predictability in health care costs continues to frustrate Americans. Most people blame the insurance companies, which negotiate rates with providers behind closed doors. Others say government intervention has destroyed health care markets and the lack of competition drives up costs.

Both sides are right, which is why Americans should embrace the latest executive order from President Donald Trump as bringing long-needed cost transparency to our broken health care system.

According to President Trump, “lack of price transparency has cost the American people $800 billion per year.” But perhaps the biggest and most unaccounted-for cost is the broad fear Americans have about medical bills bankrupting them. 

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To ease this anxiety, President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE is requiring medical providers to post fees and prices for common services, helping patients shop for the most affordable ones and the ones that work best for their individual situations. This will include posting the negotiated rates medical providers make with insurance companies, as well as any potential out-of-pocket costs for patients.

As the president said, these transparency reforms are “fundamentally changing the healthcare marketplace by empowering patients to make the choice that is best for them.”

The order goes on to allow public access to (de-identified) claims data so stakeholders inside and outside of government can evaluate decisions and make recommendations to improve both access to and quality of care. This gives patients and doctors more easily accessible metrics to review.

Furthermore, the new rule expands options and affordability by letting patients couple high-deductible, low-premium plans with health savings accounts, which they can use for preventative care. This encourages Americans to seek care before their health becomes worse and typically more expensive.

But perhaps the most innovative reform is allowing patients to use their savings accounts for new options like direct primary care and health sharing ministries. These arrangements have been shown to provide care at a fraction of the cost of traditional insurance and have restored great peace of mind by giving people real agency over their health care decisions.

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All this adds up to better choices to serve patients, significant market pressures to lower prices, and — above all — much-needed transparency in a broken system.

Illness doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, the color of your skin, or the culture you celebrate. When we get sick, we want access to someone who can help us and access to medications we can afford. When something catastrophic happens, we want to be sure that everything will be ok without having our family and friends being financially distressed or devastated.

The new executive order gives Americans the tools they need to be ready for each of these scenarios: information, access, and resources. And each of these tools are designed to allow patients to choose the services that best work for them and their families.

Government-controlled systems, like the Affordable Care Act, or even worse, “Medicare-for-All,” rely on reducing patient choice and empowerment. They only “work” if the government and the insurance companies get to tell patients what procedures, medications, and treatments they can and can’t have.  Government does so in the name of making insurance premiums “affordable;” insurance companies are incentivized to reduce their risks and improve profits. In practice, the patient suffers.

President Trump’s reforms are a positive step toward building a true patient-controlled system that gives Americans the information they need to properly value their insurance and make smarter health care decisions — or even opt out of the insurance market altogether and move toward the promising option of direct primary care.

Not depending on the government or big insurance companies means empowering patients to make informed choices. Knowing the road ahead and being prepared for what may come will make Americans healthier.

David Balat is the director of the Right on Healthcare initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @DavidBalatHC.