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Health care price transparency would bring relief from pandemic worries

Health care price transparency would bring relief from pandemic worries
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Like many working moms, I have a lot on my mind these days. I’m worried about keeping my family healthy during this pandemic, about juggling my job and caring for my kids, about watching my aging grandparents navigate their health care, all while managing my household budget during these financially uncertain times — a job that studies show falls mostly to women.

Though I have a handle on most of my household’s expenses, one constant unknown is always the cost of health care. Most American households spend one-fifth of their income on health care, even when everyone is healthy. That’s too much. And then there is always the thought of “what if?” With a deadly virus lurking just around the corner, many women worry that their family is one hospital visit away from financial ruin. 

Meanwhile, every year American health care premiums go up, while benefits get worse. Deductibles get higher while coverages shrink. Today’s family of four spends, on average, $28,000 per year on health care and coverage.

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Their average deductible is over $8,000 per family, and the great majority of Americans never meet their deductible. No wonder health care is a top issue for women who make 80 percent of all health care decisions. We are tired of paying for health care with a blank check and being priced gouged by hospitals, insurance companies, and all the middle players who profit from keeping us in the dark.

One answer is clear. If women could shop for health care the way we shop for everything else, including groceries, cars, appliances, and clothing, we would have far more control of our health care dollars. Give us the tools to save, and we’ll use them. But because our current opaque health care system keeps us price blind, we can’t know the price of care until after we get it. And then it’s too late. 

Top economists agree, the best way to bring down the cost of health care, and bring families like mine financial relief, is by making health care prices transparent and empowering consumers. If Americans could shop for health care based on price, competition would kick in, causing prices for both care and coverage to drop significantly. Quality would go up along with medical innovation. 

Not surprisingly, a July survey by McLaughlin & Associates found that 98 percent of women under 40 want hospitals, insurance companies, and doctors to be required to show their prices. We want to see cash prices, which research shows are 39 percent less than insurer prices in the same market and even same facility, as well as those hidden prices hospitals negotiate with insurance plans, the ones they keep “secret” until after you get care ─ and your bill weeks later. Notably, 88 percent of men and women of all ages want price transparency, too. This is a bipartisan, populist issue that Congress needs to deliver.

And now is their chance. Washington lawmakers have a bill in hand, the Health Care PRICE Transparency Act, which they could fold into the next COVID-19 stimulus relief package, up for a vote soon. If passed, the law would require hospitals and insurance companies to make all their prices available online in an easy to access format by January.

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As women, we are the chief medical and financial officers for our families, making our medical and budget decisions. We need this pricing information so we can shop for non-emergent care like MRIs, bloodwork, colonoscopies, routine checkups, and even having a baby so that we can budget and plan.

We live in a time when I can use an app to ask for a car to come to my house to take me where I want to go and get the price for the ride and agree to it before I step foot in the car. I want a health care app as I have for Uber, or Travelocity, or Amazon at my fingertips, one that lets me shop and compares price and quality so that I can make healthy medical and budget decisions for myself and my family. 

That’s why we need this law now. Each of us can help by asking our senators to make health care price transparency part of the next stimulus package. Treatment for our sick, dysfunctional health care system is at hand. We must hope that our lawmakers support what nearly 90 percent of voters want and that they stand up against the dominant health care lobby enticing them to vote otherwise.

Hadley Heath Manning is the director of policy for the Independent Women’s Voice.