Health Care In The States

Dream Of A Medical ‘Price List’ Dies In Florida Legislature

By Sarah Barr

January 30th, 2012, 12:46 PM

Imagine if finding out the cost of a particular treatment or procedure at a doctors’ office was as easy as locating the prices of entrees at a restaurant. The menu might read: school physicals – $40; office visit for a cold – $80; diabetes screening – $200. But to the dismay of some consumer advocates, this push for health care pricing transparency never made it out of the kitchen.

While a Florida state House committee approved legislation that would expand the state’s requirement that certain providers post the out-of-pocket prices of common health care services, a state Senate committee shot down a similar measure after an aggressive lobbying push by health care provider groups.

Organizations representing the state’s doctors weren’t wild about the idea that certain facilities would have to display bulletin-board sized postings of their prices.

Jeff Scott, general counsel for the Florida Medical Association, said that providers are all for transparency, but they don’t need the government telling them exactly how they should do it.

“Next thing you know they’re going to say it has to be neon or include pictures,” he said.

But providers’ most strenuous objections were to provisions in the legislation that would require providers to disclose prices to out-of-network patients and limit so-called balance billing, which happens in health care settings when providers bill patients the difference between what they charge for a service and what insurers pay it.

Meanwhile, the state already requires urgent care centers to post in their reception area the prices of their 50 most frequently used services, and the posting must be at least 15 square feet.  Physicians are not required to do so, but they must follow the same rules if they post prices voluntarily.

Under the proposed legislation, ambulatory care centers and diagnostic-imaging centers would have had to follow the same rules as urgent care centers, and the original bills also would have expanded the requirement to physicians. The House committee-approved bill softened this language to maintain the voluntary status quo for doctors. Both bills would have required physicians to provide patients with a written statement of prices at each visit.

Richard Polangin, health care policy coordinator for the Florida Public Interest Research Group, said the legislation would have been a boon for consumers, many of whom are unaware that prices can vary among doctors and facilities.

The bills would “enable persons who must pay for doctor visits, diagnostic images such as CT scans and MRIs, and for care at ambulatory surgery centers, to know the cost in advance,” he said. “The uninsured and persons with insurance deductibles would be able to make more informed health care decisions.”

Insurers and business groups also supported the legislation. And, though the measure’s future is uncertain, at least one person involved in the lobbying effort said work would continue.

6 Responses to “Dream Of A Medical ‘Price List’ Dies In Florida Legislature”

  1. So much for price competition in the health care system.

  2. Rich says:

    This is all you need to read, “…a state Senate committee shot down a similar measure after an aggressive lobbying push by health care provider groups”

    Scumbag GOP politicians!

    I guess the money from the lobby groups was too darn good for scumbag Florida law makers to pass up, huh? Let’s face it, when it comes to Republican politicians, It’s never about doing the right thing. It’s “always” about payola!

    Meanwhile, the health care consumer gets it up the @$$ again!

  3. Roger says:

    I agree with Pat above. Despite the claims by many theory-obsessed economists that simply promoting price competition in health care is going to drive down costs (see a recent post on a health care blog: http://healthpolicyforum.org/post/are-consumers-ready-transform-health-care-if-not-now-when), it would appear even revealing prices is a challenge. This story shows that those promoting so called “consumer directed” health plans (ie, high deductible plans) are really driving a policy that has no real chance of success outside of the world of theory, given how hard it can be for consumers to even compare costs in health care–assuming they even would if they could. Perhaps those promoting those plans need to turn their attention to one of the real culprits in health care cost increases–profit-obsessed health insurance companies. Of course, these companies themselves benefit from these plans, since they get to push more costs to the consumer and pay out less. A win-win for business and a lose-lose for consumers.

  4. Trent Hovenga says:

    When a patient calls my office to ask the cost of a office visit or a procedure, we tell him. All the consumer has to do is ask. If you ask and get obfuscation, call or go someplace else.

  5. Cindy says:

    This is such a shame. How can we fix this problem if we can’t even agree to the costs and inform patients of them? As a doctor, we must be more transparent and help patients become more informed on cost. When I’m in the patient role, I am extremely frustrated that I don’t know how much I need to pay until the bill comes in the mail after the fact. This is wrong, and I’m appalled that health care provider groups are behind this kind of lobbying.

  6. Mark says:

    Health insurance is expensive because healthcare is expensive. The issue of transparency is not a “right or left” political issue…many providers don’t want their contracted fees disclosed because it would expose the variation they charge from carrier to carrier for the exact same service AND they would have to defend their pricing practices. The federal government isn’t supporting price transparency because it will expose the massive cost shift they make to the private sector through Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, it’s one of the best kept secrets in the healthcare reform debate…government pays an average of $.60 for a $1 of healthcare, in turn providers charge $1.40 to private insurers to make up the difference. As consumers, we need to expose the language the government, providers and insurers use to speak with one another…it’s called medical coding (CPT and ICD-9). If we want to ask consumers to be engaged, educated and empowered, we need to give them tools.

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