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February 7, 2024
David Burda
Consumerism Economics Policy
4-Minute 4sight Blogs

Price Transparency? I Don’t Know About That

One of my all-time favorite Saturday Night Live sketches is this one about a voice-activated personal assistant for seniors who don’t believe anything that the Amazon-AARP Echo Silver tells them. When the bot responds to a senior’s question with an accurate answer, the senior says, “I don’t know about that.”

The comedy translates to me because I have — and have had — many seniors in my life who behave exactly the same way. They don’t trust any information anyone under 65 gives them, no matter how accessible, factual or verifiable. I’m pushing 64, and I’m starting to see signs that I’m in danger of behaving the same way in a few years. We’ll see.

I thought of those people in my life, and that SNL sketch, after I read the results of two recent surveys on healthcare price transparency.

The first is a survey of 1,130 adults age 18 or older conducted last December by Patient Rights Advocate. The national patient advocacy group released the results of the survey last month.

A huge number, 95% of the survey respondents, said they “agree” or “strongly agree” with the following statement:

“Healthcare organizations such as insurance companies, hospitals and doctors should be legally required to disclose all of their prices, including discounted prices, cash prices and insurance negotiated rates, across hospitals and across plans in an easily accessible place online to allow for easy shopping for healthcare services.”

Agreements ticked slightly higher to 96% for respondents 45 or older.

At the same time, 91% of the respondents said they would shop for the “best quality of healthcare at the lowest possible price” if they had that information. That dropped slightly to 90% for respondents 45 or older.

The second survey was of 5,458 adults age 18 or older, conducted in May 2023 by Gallup. The polling firm also released the results of the survey last month. Here’s what Gallup found:

  • 95% of the respondents said yes, healthcare organizations should be required to tell prospective patients how much a product or service will cost them before they receive it.
  • 56% of the respondents said no, the cost of the products or services that they receive does not reflect the quality of those products or services, i.e., they feel they’re getting overcharged.
  • 79% of the respondents said no, they don’t know what a healthcare product or service will cost them before they receive it.

Combining the survey results paints a picture of assertive, consumer-savvy patients who would shop for medical care if they had access to accurate price information. It’s providers and payers who are making that information difficult — sometimes impossible — to find.

Let’s remember that federal law requires providers and payers to publicly disclose that price information. True, compliance with the requirements has been slow and shoddy. Still, I don’t think most patients are smart enough, assertive enough or consumer-savvy enough to find price information and use it to shop for medical care or a health plan. Even if they did get accurate price information, would they believe it?

If the patient is a senior, according to SNL and my own experience, they wouldn’t believe whatever a provider or health plan told them. What do you think?

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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