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The Need for Transparency in Healthcare

October 23, 2012

Illustration by Brita Agostino

When you’re making a major life decision, like buying a car or house, you will most likely research, compare, and find the best value for your buck.

With thousands of dollars on the line, we assume it is our basic right to have information like price, quality, and safety readily and easily available.

So why is it so different when we are purchasing health care services?

A recent Wired Magazine article, “Peeling Away Health Care’s Sticker Shock,” by Andy Grove, sheds light on our current health care marketplace and how transparency has never been more crucial.

“The health care industry plays a gigantic game of Blind Man’s Bluff, keeping patients in the dark while asking them to make life-and-death decisions. The odds that they will make the best choice are negligible and largely depend on chance. Patients need to have data, including costs and their own medical histories, liberated and made freely available for thorough analysis. What health care needs is a window sticker—a transparent, good-faith effort at making prices clear and setting market forces to work.”

Grove explains that as other marketplaces used to be opaque, most are now transparent and more efficient because of technology. You know what you are getting and what it will cost before you agree to pay out. He continues:

“Consider a recent study of the costs of routine appendectomies performed throughout California. Though the procedures were largely identical, the charges varied more than 100-fold—from $1,529 at the cheapest to $182,955 at the most expensive.”

Nearly 100 people commented on this article, many making valid points. One person commented about a new site called Clear Health Costs that aims “to bring transparency to the health-care marketplace by telling people prices for medical procedures and items. By revealing prices, we are empowering consumers to make informed decisions about the costs of their medical care and coverage.” The site, still in it’s early stages, provides doctor names and prices for specific procedures in different states.

“We are doing our part for transparency over at clearhealthcosts.com — comparing prices of common procedures. (How cost and price and payment became so disconnected is fascinating.) As more and more people have more and more skin in the game, it’s important to show these prices. Then we can have the conversation about quality — and then the conversation about value. But until price comes out of the shadows, patients won’t have enough information to wield the economic power Andy Grove talks about.” Read More…

Ultimately, our health is our most valuable asset. Shouldn’t we have the basic right to know health costs before making life-and-death decisions?

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