Transparency is a necessary first step towards a better healthcare system

The US Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services have issued a new joint federal law. Another federal mandate is hardly newsworthy, but one designed under the Trump administration and so eagerly implemented by the Biden administration is certainly one of a kind.

Politics aside, the Transparency in Coverage rule, while not without its flaws, helps address one of the fundamental flaws that worsens the effectiveness of the country’s healthcare system — its opaqueness.


The lack of transparency that pervades the healthcare system exposes patients to problems such as unforeseen medical bills. These unexpected, often significant, fees occur when patients are unaware that their in-network clinic is using a provider (providers) who do not participate in their insurance network. As a result, negotiated in-network rates are not applied by insurers to these providers, leaving patients stunned when they receive unexpected additional charges they didn’t know they had to pay.

The lack of transparency is also a major driver of patients’ overpayments for prescription drugs. like medication channels The actual net prices of brand-name drugs have declined over the past five years. Due to higher inflation, net drug prices fell by 8.7% during the first three quarters of 2022.

However, pricing opacity hides these net prices from patients. Moreover, as I describe hereLack of transparency stimulates undesirable outcomes that unfairly pass drug costs onto patients. Thus, although total health expenditures on medications grow slowly, patients pay an ever-increasing share of these costs and are often left exposed to the costs of some more expensive medications, which is exactly when insurance should be. Patient protection through risk mitigation services.


Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples. Whether you are looking for the right doctor to perform your knee replacement surgery or simply visiting a GP, patients rarely know the full costs of a visit until weeks or months later.

As Marc Galvin, founder of health care price transparency platform Talon, points out in a MedCity News interview

“The problem was that there was no consistency in the data available to us as consumers,” he said in an interview. “You can’t know the price ahead of time, you can’t know the discount you negotiated for. The doctor couldn’t tell you. Your insurance company couldn’t tell you. You couldn’t do a normal comparison.”


It is simply unreasonable to expect patients to be effective agents in their healthcare spending when they have no reasonable way of knowing the cost of care.

Although creating a pricing system that is transparent is not enough, it is a necessary first step toward correcting this problem. Not only will price transparency help mitigate problems with unforeseen medical bills or prohibitive drug costs, but it will also improve the quality and affordability of the broader US health care system.

the Act no surprises, which became effective January 1, 2022, was in response to the first issue. Under this law, patients are only responsible for in-network costs when they receive care in in-network facilities or emergency care in out-of-network facilities. The law also promotes transparency by requiring providers and insurance companies to make cost information available to patients.

The newly introduced Effective Coverage Transparency rule aims to create the same transparency benefits for broader medical costs and services. Under Al-QaedaMost group health plans and issuers of group or individual health insurance plans must ensure that key pricing information is disclosed to the public.


Basic information plans under this rule must provide bona fide estimates of out-of-pocket costs for scheduled in-network medical services, provided via an “online price comparison tool”. Disclosure requirements also mandate that the plan publicly disclose in-network prices, allowable out-of-network costs, and prescription drug prices under the plan’s formulary.

As of the beginning of this month, the regulation mandates cost savings associated with 500 “shoppable” services in general including office visits, cancer scans, MRIs and joint replacement surgeries. Disclosure mandates expand to all other items and services covered by the plan beginning January 1, 2024.

Thanks to the price comparison tool, patients will be able to compare how cost-sharing amounts differ between different service options when they are looking for specific medical services. Were it not for the perverse incentives that plague the current healthcare financing system, this knowledge would already be available to patients. Armed with this information, patients will be able to control their out-of-pocket costs, particularly for scheduled medical services.


Although an improvement, the overall costs of providing medical services should guide patients’ decisions and not just the out-of-pocket costs they incur. Thus, reforms should encourage patients to benefit by considering the overall costs of services and not just the impact on their out-of-pocket expenses. Another flaw in the rule is the government’s ability to charge large and complex fees to those organizations that do not comply with the mandate, something employers will unfortunately need to manage.

Despite these shortcomings, this rule pushes the healthcare system in the right direction. Transparency, when combined with broader reforms that put patients in control of their own health care money and encourage insurers to provide actual health insurance (rather than prepaid health care expenses as the current system does), will meaningfully address the flaw of our current health care system.

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