By Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs Barbara Anthony
Until now, if consumers asked their doctors or hospitals how much a particular service will cost, they would be told that the price depends on their insurance plan. When consumers asked their insurance carriers the same question, they would be told that price of a health care service depends on each provider’s contract.
Thanks to Massachusetts’ recent health care quality and cost containment law, that’s about to change. Insurance companies must now develop toll-free numbers and websites through which consumers can determine the prices of provider services. Most notably, the law requires carriers to tailor the information presented to the insured’s plan, taking into account plan-specific information such as co-pay, deductible, and co-insurance.
To their credit, major Massachusetts insurers are already preparing to roll out these consumer information tools—see my January 8th op-ed and Rob Weisman’s excellent reporting in this past Sunday’s Boston Globe. This is a great example of what industry can do to lead the way through innovation and technology that benefits competition and consumers.
We have seen an appetite on the part of insurers to get this information out there and a hunger for consumers to have it in an easily digestible way. For this reason – my office will be launching a Health Care Consumer Empowerment campaign to bring together carriers, providers, non-profits, employers, and consumers to put consumers in charge of the way they shop for health care services.
Health care consumers, like consumers in other markets, should be able to shop around and compare services including price and quality. We cannot reign in health care costs if consumers are kept in the dark about the price of health care services.
Empowering consumers with pricing information is a necessary first step toward a patient centered culture that can result in the more efficient delivery of lower cost, high quality health care services. Armed with price, consumers can continue to consider quality, location, and other factors when selecting health care services.