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Am I A Healthcare Consumer?

February 5, 2014

con·sum·er: a person who purchases goods and services for personal use.

It is probably accurate to assume that if you are reading this, you consider yourself a consumer. After all, you go to the grocery store, probably bought household items such as furniture and electronics and the clothes you are currently wearing most likely came from a clothing store.

Before you purchased any of these items, did you research the items prior to handing over your money? Did you look at prices to compare which one was the better buy or to see if it was even something you could afford? Chances are, you have. Being a consumer means you have a choice. You have the opportunity to pick and choose where your money goes based on what you find to be the quality product of choice to spend money on.

You are a consumer of food, clothing, services, electronics, appliances, vehicles, etc. But what about your healthcare? When looking for a new doctor or hospital, do you compare prices? Chances are, you haven’t, but not for lack of trying. The main reason being that finding prices for medical goods and services is near impossible. There are very few insurance plans, hospitals or doctors that make their pricing available to the public. A phone call to the hospital asking about the price of a MRI usually results in “It’s depends” or “I’m not sure. Let me transfer you to the billing department.” From there, they will probably tell you to call your insurance or that you will receive a bill a few weeks after the procedure.

What would happen if you called a mechanic to fix your vehicle and they told you they had no idea what it would cost, but they will send you a bill after the repairs? It is probably safe to say that you would find that absurd and move on to the next mechanic in your Google search. Healthcare is one of the only industries where this practice is common and accepted.

Why is this the case? While there are many reasons, one is the lack of legislation requiring the industry to publish its prices. Last March, Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR) and Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute (HCI3) put out a report grading each state on price transparency. It analyzed legislation and reporting tools and found that 36 states received a “D” or an “F”. That means that 72% of the nation fails at providing laws or public reporting tools to ensure the public has access to prices of healthcare services and goods.

So the question remains: without being able to price compare, are you really given a choice? And if you aren’t really given a choice about your care, are you truly a healthcare consumer?

Join the conversation on Twitter by following @INQUIREhc and using #hctransparency