Are You Kidding Me?
Tuesday, December 11 2012
Everyone has a story about an experience with our dysfunctional health care system that would make someone say “are you kidding me?” Once I had to be taken to a hospital by ambulance due to a concussion, and then a few weeks later got a bill from my insurance company because the particular ambulance company I used was not covered under my plan. Yes, that’s right, apparently before dialing 911 I was supposed to call my insurance company to find out which ambulance should pick me up.
The above article highlights an experience by a reporter in Massachusetts who tried to find out the cost of a recent MRI she had to receive. Needless to say it was not very easy to do. This is important because one of the recent trends in health policy is to figure out ways to increase transparency regarding the cost of medical services. The theory goes that if patients have more information regarding the costs of services they will become “smart shoppers” for health care, which combined with a new wave of high deductible plans, could help bring down costs. But if it’s this hard to find out the cost of services in the first place, how can this theory be tested?
If we ever had full transparency as to the cost of medical services, the public would be very surprised. Health care services, such as an MRI, are incredibly expensive, but people are typically insulated from these costs by insurance. Furthermore, as the article points out, many times health professionals charge more for a service that is more “profitable”, such as MRIs, to offset the costs of other services that are less financially viable. And, health professionals often must charge those with private insurance much more to offset the lower reimbursements they receive from Medicare and Medicaid.
We should strive for more transparency in health care if for no other reason than so the public is more aware of the complex underpinning of our dysfunctional system, which hopefully could encourage a movement for real, meaningful health system reform.