The well known rule of how to win in politics is to find an issue that has the approval of two thirds of the electorate, stand beside it, and smile. Conservatives already happen to have such an issue in their portfolio, but they just aren’t using it. Democrats aren’t using it either, though they should too.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans – across ideologies and demographics – believe they should have the right to know what health care costs before they buy it, and we agree.
So does President Trump, who Sunday night on Steve Hilton’s show said it was one of his most important issues. Indeed that healthcare transparency — the right to know prices before you pay — is the foundation of his health care agenda’s promise to put patients and their doctors back in control.
At last, with the new Patient Protection Pledge, Americans have a way to amplify that point and send a message to Washington that they want the right to know prices, including cash prices, in advance. With the Pledge, we will know which of our politicians stand with us, and we, the public, can sign it ourselves to drive home the message to our representatives that it’s time we had genuine price transparency in health care.
The Patient Protection Pledge supports laws requiring the healthcare industry – hospitals, insurers, providers, etc – to make public all charges and secret negotiated rates, as well as offer a cash price so patients can shop around. President Trump took the lead, taking on the swamp and the thick slice of DC healthcare industry lobbyists with two executive rule changes, which will require this as early as January 2021. That’s if they survive the industry’s delay and pretend tactics, starting with an all-out legal assault from the hospital lobby in court.
The American Hospital Association (AHA) alleges that the President doesn’t have the authority to require price transparency. One sure way to end this court battle would be to pass the Braun-Flores’ Healthcare PRICE Transparency Act. The Patient Protection Pledge – which Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) and Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX-17) have already signed – will help voters know who is serious about passing real healthcare price transparency – or just mouthing empty promises.
In addition to fighting in the courts, healthcare industry lobbyists and allied groups like the Chamber of Commerce are also working against price transparency in the halls of Congress. They are trying to persuade lawmakers that price transparency is a violation of the industry’s private information (their alleged right to keep prices — that you will be required to pay — from you). Imagine any other business or service making that claim – and what a destructive, collusion-inducing precedent that would be. They also say that it won’t really help patients, or, laughably, that it will lead to higher prices instead of lower prices (note to the AG: they are proactively confessing to future illegal collusion).
Some free market groups – weirdly correlated with counting the healthcare industry among their donors – say that they can’t support price transparency because that would be imposing rules on the healthcare marketplace. Except there is no marketplace in most of health care (except for some notable exceptions like Lasik and certain non-covered procedures, where their example is an argument for, not against, posted transparent prices.) Indeed one precondition for a functioning market is first having transparency about prices. That’s why Dr. Art Laffer and health economist Prof. Larry Van Horn are two of the early signers of the Pledge, along with former Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Opponents of price transparency also sometimes say it’s simply not feasible: How could they possibly know in advance what patients will require when they arrive at the hospital? This is where it is important to remember that more than 90 percent of healthcare spending is non-emergency. People have time to shop around for procedures, tests, and treatments that are not urgent.
Saying you can’t price health care in advance is like saying to travelers that they won’t know what their flight cost until after they land – because the airline doesn’t know how many other passengers will be on board to share the cost, nor if there will be weather delays, or the need for extra fuel, etc.
Service-based industries provide a guaranteed price despite not knowing their exact anticipated costs in advance – e.g. building construction, landscaping, business consulting. Or, they guarantee a price with a caveat that the consumer would have to agree to an additional, specified amount if the scope changes. Therefore, this argument — that price transparency in health care is impossible — is a ruse.
Congress should move quickly to protect patients with healthcare price transparency now. Covid has been devastating. Many have postponed essential “non-essential” tests, checkups and procedures and are now wondering what they will be billed when they go back. People like Colorado school teacher Carbery Campbell are going for Covid tests – and then getting slammed with unwarranted bills ($6,500 in her case). Small businesses are wondering where they can save enough money to stay alive and keep employees employed. All would be helped, as estimates are that healthcare price transparency would save $11,000 out of the average family’s annual $28,000 cost for health care, while overall healthcare costs should drop by 40%, helping businesses recover.
Making price transparency a statute would do more than protect it from courtroom attacks or misinformation campaigns. It would also make it harder for future administrations to simply undo it. The Biden campaign has made sympathetic statements about price transparency, but the language is ambiguous and could encompass a wide range of variations in implementation, including Medicare for all (which would be price-fixing, not just price transparency), uniform billing, and a laundry list of nuances the healthcare industry uses to sound like they want price transparency while maintaining obscurity.
Healthcare price transparency benefits patients and will boost the economy. The Patient Protection Pledge gives signers a voice, not just against special interests in the healthcare industry, and against the partisan politics that too often stymie issues with strong public support, but for empowering Americans by demanding we return freedom, choice, and trust to health care.
That’s what the American people want, and deserve. The Patient Protection Pledge will help us get there faster by fostering accountability and offering citizens good information and real choices. So sign it now and send a message to Washington!
Heather R. Higgins is the CEO of Independent Women’s Voice and a long-time healthcare influencer.