The Trump administration on Friday unveiled new rules to require increased disclosure of health care prices, in a move officials said would drive down costs by increasing competition.
One regulation would require hospitals to provide a consumer-friendly online page where prices are listed for 300 common procedures like X-rays and lab tests. A second regulation would require insurers to provide an online tool where people could compare their out-of-pocket costs at different medical providers before receiving treatment.
The Trump administration is seeking to make a range of health care announcements, mainly outside the scope of the Affordable Care Act, to show progress on an issue that Democrats used to great effect to help win back control of the House last year.
Joe Grogan, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told reporters Friday that Trump is “consistently non-ideological” in confronting health care problems.
Grogan said the Trump administration has a “much wider aperture” in its health care focus than the Obama administration, which he said had a “singular focus on the Affordable Care Act.”
While the administration makes a range of non-ObamaCare health care announcements, it is also currently in court supporting a lawsuit to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act. A ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals could come at any time. Democrats have focused on that lawsuit, warning of the millions of people who could lose coverage if it succeeds.
The rule announced Friday affecting hospitals is a final rule, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2021. The rule for insurers is still a proposal that is not yet finalized.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar acknowledged to reporters on Friday that industry might sue over the rules.
“We may face litigation, but we feel we’re on a very sound legal footing,” he said.
“I would certainly hate to see the hospitals take a play out of Big Pharma's playbook,” he added, noting that drug companies have sued over their own price transparency rules.
President Trump said in remarks at the White House on Friday that the move is "another major victory in our mission to deliver great health care at a price you can afford."
"I don't know if the hospitals are going to like me very much anymore but that's okay," he said, later adding, "after many, many years we finally have transparency."
Indeed, hours after the announcement, the American Hospital Association, along with other provider groups, announced it would sue to stop the rule.
"Instead of helping patients know their out-of-pocket costs, this rule will introduce widespread confusion, accelerate anticompetitive behavior among health insurers, and stymie innovations in value-based care delivery," the groups said.
Insurers have argued that price transparency could actually drive prices higher if low-cost hospitals can see that competitors are getting higher prices, and seek to raise them. Azar called that argument a “canard” and said in every other industry, price competition drives prices lower, not higher.
Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said there could be a problem with enforcement of the new rule.
"While the Trump administration's new hospital price transparency requirement is quite sweeping, the enforcement of it is quite weak — a maximum fine of $300 per day," he wrote on Twitter. "The technical term for that is 'chump change.' I wonder how many hospitals will just pay the fine."
This story was updated at 2:59 p.m.