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Star Parker

Founder & President, Center for Urban Renewal and Education

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Opinion

We can fight healthcare inflation with cost transparency

May 19, 2023

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Star Parker

Founder & President, Center for Urban Renewal and Education

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Inflation has made everything from gas to groceries more expensive. It has also driven up the cost of healthcare for millions of Americans. But unlike the trip to the grocery store, where the prices are clearly marked, many people have no idea what a trip to the doctor’s office will cost, until after services are rendered. Congress has passed legislation requiring insurers and employers to show prices for healthcare services, but is that enough to help consumers?

Straight Arrow News contributor Star Parker argues the fight against healthcare inflation must begin with better cost transparency.

A recent analysis from the McKinsey consulting firm estimated that as a whole, Americans will be spending $370 billion more by 2027 due to the impact of inflation. Fixing inflation is an ongoing issue but there are clear solutions that we can employ now towards these rising costs, especially in healthcare.

Increasing the transparency in healthcare costs is one of the top ways that we can do this. That’s why the House Ways and Means Committee just held a hearing here in Washington, D.C. on transparency in healthcare pricing. As the Republican Committee Chairman Jason Smith said in his opening testimony, “Patients don’t want to be contestants on a game show, trying to guess which hospital door leads to the lowest prices.” And that’s exactly one of the key problems. We don’t know the price of the product we’re getting ready to buy. 

This is self-evident to anyone who’s ever gone in for any kind of medical care. Just think about a typical visit to the doctor. Your health plan gets you in the door, but you have no idea what the doctor is being paid, you have no idea what instruments you’re going to have to pay for, you don’t know the cause of anything he or she prescribes for you. 

How can a market possibly function this way? Can you imagine going to the supermarket and seeing the shelves filled, but no prices displayed? How could you even decide what to buy, how much to buy?

Like a rising tide, inflation has raised the cost of all goods and services that every American needs and wants. We continue to hear stories of increased costs in the supermarket, at the gas station, and many other areas of our personal lives. But it is the rising cost of health care inflation, specifically, that needs much more attention.
These costs were already rising before we got stuck with this Biden’s [sic] inflation mess. So imagine the gathering storms that have come together between costs that were already rising, the impact of the pandemic, and inflation. A recent analysis from the McKinsey consulting firm estimated that as a whole, Americans will be spending $370 billion more by 2027 due to the impact of inflation. Fixing inflation is an ongoing issue.
But there are clear solutions that we can employ now towards these rising costs, especially in health care. Increasing the transparency in health care costs is one of the top ways that we can do this. That’s why the House Ways and Means Committee just held a hearing here in Washington D.C. on transparency in health care pricing. As the Republican Committee Chairman Jason Smith said in his opening testimony, patients don’t want to be contestants on a game show, trying to guess which hospital door leads to the lowest prices. And that’s exactly one of the key problems. We don’t know the price of the product we’re getting ready to buy.
This is self-evident to anyone who’s ever gone in for any kind of medical care. Just think about a typical visit to the doctor. Your health plan gets you in the door, but you have no idea what the doctor is being paid, you have no idea what instruments you’re going to have to pay for, you don’t know the cause of anything he or she prescribes for you.
How can a market possibly function this way? Can you imagine going to the supermarket and seeing the shelves filled, but no prices displayed? How could you even decide what to buy, how much to buy? When you get to the cash register, and you find out and then everybody behind you is just mad at you because “please put this away, please put that away.” This is why towards the end of his presidency, President Trump signed into law the No Surprises Act, which contains some consumer protections against this surprise billing. So he had passed this so that we wouldn’t be so surprised. But this law was a first step in trying to address this serious problem.
Unfortunately, that first step seems to be just gone from this administration, kind of like the border. Everything that President Trump did, they got rid of well in this area as well, or they just don’t implement it. The federal agency in charge of all of this, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or what our acronym here is, CMS, has been negligent at worst and incompetent at best in this venture, this opportunity to inform the American people on all the hospitals of what changes were made under the Trump administration in this very personal sensitive area. Recent data collected by the patient’s right advocate.org shows that less than a quarter of hospitals are in compliance with all of these price transparency requirements. Yet the Kaiser Family Foundation recently found in their analysis, that the main reason for this is not the ill will of hospitals. Although there are some bad apples, we know that; we get that in other areas that we need to be concerned. But these bad practices designed to take money from your wallet, no what Kaiser found, what their analysts said, what their analysis and research points to, is that the main culprit is CMS. CMS itself and the severe shortcomings of their implementation and lack of information to the hospitals.
And to be sure, we have to rely on data from these private organizations, because we’re certainly not getting data from CMS. We’re not even hearing much in the way of what they’re doing about this crisis that comes upon us because of lack of transparency. As Chairman Smith put it, you can get more information about a local restaurant from Yelp than you can get about your local hospital from CMS, and that’s in quotes.
Look, if we have more transparency then people can make better decisions regarding their budgets and their health. In fact, the number of people receiving needed medical care will [sic] increase as everyone would know the cost of what they need the cost of going in and getting checked on a on an annual basis. Right now, far too many people understandably avoid this money pit of healthcare for fear of what it will cost them. So they wait until it’s really bad, and then it costs all of us more.
Our country was built on free-market principles. It was one of the things that made America a beacon of liberty around the world. The best thing that we can do for health care is to get it back to a real free market. One of the key needs for this to happen is transparency for the consumer. More knowledge for Americans that will grant more freedom and in turn, lead to a healthier and happier life, is best for all of us.

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