Imagine if finding out the cost of a particular treatment or procedure at a doctors’ office was as easy as locating the prices of entrees at a restaurant. The menu might read: school physicals – $40; office visit for a cold – $80; diabetes screening – $200. But to the dismay of some consumer advocates, this push for health care pricing transparency never made it out of the kitchen.
While a Florida state House committee approved legislation that would expand the state’s requirement that certain providers post the out-of-pocket prices of common health care services, a state Senate committee shot down a similar measure after an aggressive lobbying push by health care provider groups.
Organizations representing the state’s doctors weren’t wild about the idea that certain facilities would have to display bulletin-board sized postings of their prices.
Jeff Scott, general counsel for the Florida Medical Association, said that providers are all for transparency, but they don’t need the government telling them exactly how they should do it.
“Next thing you know they’re going to say it has to be neon or include pictures,” he said.
But providers’ most strenuous objections were to provisions in the legislation that would require providers to disclose prices to out-of-network patients and limit so-called balance billing, which happens in health care settings when providers bill patients the difference between what they charge for a service and what insurers pay it.
Meanwhile, the state already requires urgent care centers to post in their reception area the prices of their 50 most frequently used services, and the posting must be at least 15 square feet. Physicians are not required to do so, but they must follow the same rules if they post prices voluntarily.
Under the proposed legislation, ambulatory care centers and diagnostic-imaging centers would have had to follow the same rules as urgent care centers, and the original bills also would have expanded the requirement to physicians. The House committee-approved bill softened this language to maintain the voluntary status quo for doctors. Both bills would have required physicians to provide patients with a written statement of prices at each visit.
Richard Polangin, health care policy coordinator for the Florida Public Interest Research Group, said the legislation would have been a boon for consumers, many of whom are unaware that prices can vary among doctors and facilities.
The bills would “enable persons who must pay for doctor visits, diagnostic images such as CT scans and MRIs, and for care at ambulatory surgery centers, to know the cost in advance,” he said. “The uninsured and persons with insurance deductibles would be able to make more informed health care decisions.”
Insurers and business groups also supported the legislation. And, though the measure’s future is uncertain, at least one person involved in the lobbying effort said work would continue.