When you take your car in for an oil change or get your hair cut, you have a pretty good idea what it will cost. Signs are usually posted at businesses that provide these services.
But when you go to a hospital or a doctor’s office for health care procedures and services, most folks have no idea what it is going to cost.
That should change. Making the cost of health care more transparent gives patients information needed to decide whether to have the procedure.
When people know what it will cost them, they are less likely to have unnecessary procedures. And now that the Affordable Care Act has kicked in, this is even more important.
More Americans with insurance are paying 100 percent of the premium. The soaring price of insurance over the past decades has resulted in employers paying a smaller percentage of the premiums or simply dropping coverage as a benefit.
More costs have shifted onto workers. ACA requirements have changed what coverage is offered and thus changed the level of coverage consumers choose.
“We need to own this as an industry. We need to step up,” said Joseph Fifer, president and chief executive of the Healthcare Financial Management Association. It coordinated a group of two dozen providers of service developing recommendations on how to provide patients more information about the cost of health care services.
The report’s major recommendations include a plan to provide patients with the total estimated price of the service; a clear indication of whether the provider is in-network or where to find an in-network provider; a patient’s out-of-pocket costs; and other relevant information such as patient-safety scores and clinical outcomes, according to The Washington Post.
In addition, the report calls for health care providers to offer uninsured patients the estimated cost for a standard procedure and make clear how complications could increase the price.
“I think that the focus now, unlike three years ago when it was on access, the focus is about affordability,” said Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans. “What are the prices being charged? It leads consumers to want to know, ‘How do I evaluate all that?’ ”
Yes, making this happen will be difficult. Providing medical services is far — far — more complex than oil changes and haircuts. The costs of procedures can vary greatly depending on myriad factors, including unexpected complications.
Still, it should be possible to come up with a basic system in which estimates could be posted or handed out to patients. Doctors might even be able to talk to patients about the costs.
This is already done at most dental service providers because a lot of patients pay out of pocket.
With higher costs and more insured through ACA it’s become more important for patients to know what their care costs.