State Representative John Kefalas (D – Fort Collins) is planning to introduce a bill next month that would create a website where Colorado residents could research the price of various medical procedures at hospitals across the state. If passed, his bill would set up a committee that would spend 18 months determining what procedures should be included in the price comparison database.
This is a great idea, and hopefully will one day become a reality. Cost comparison for medical procedures is difficult at best, and sometimes impossible with our current system of proprietary rates. People who have comprehensive health insurance that only requires a copay at the doctor’s office and a deductible for more comprehensive procedures, might not be aware of the vast differences in pricing from one hospital to another – even under the same health insurance policy. People with high deductible, HSA qualified policies are probably more interested in the actual cost of care, but likely find it difficult and cumbersome to shop around in our current system, especially if they are already sick and in need of care.
A statewide database of prices would be a great step forward in terms of transparency. If people could look at two hospitals in the Denver metro area and see that one is charging 50% more than another for the same procedure, it would at least be a good starting point for a discussion about value in health care.
It makes sense that a cost comparison database might have to focus on relatively straight-forward procedures that can be priced with a reliable degree of accuracy across a large number of patients. But more complicated procedures (which presumably vary in price from one patient to another, based on potential complications) could also be included by looking at a hospital’s history of such procedures and average charges. Or the procedures could be broken down into their components (for example, the anesthesiologist’s fees, the operating room charges, the inpatient medications, etc). The way I see it, the more procedures, details, and hospitals that are included in the database, the better it will be.
It’s hard to have an effective dialog about costs and cost-control when the average person has no idea what the costs actually are, and no realistic way of finding out. EOBs are great, but they only come after a person has received treatment, and thus aren’t particularly useful in terms of comparison shopping. Kefalas’ bill would be a good step towards transparency in health care costs, and I hope it is well received.