In June 2015, the Senate and House of Representatives in the state of Ohio passed unanimously the Healthcare Price Transparency Law. The law was signed by Governor John Kasich shortly thereafter. This law would require hospitals and physicians to provide a reasonable estimate to patients prior to procedures and tests. This would allow the patient to make decisions on whether or not to have the services, to shop for a lower price, or to determine how they are going to pay for this bill.
Our own local State Representative Jim Butler, Republican from Oakwood and Kettering, offered and sponsored the law. Mr. Butler has worked with the Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) and the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA), as well as a number of lobbying organizations to help implement the Healthcare Transparency law so it is workable for both healthcare providers and patients. Jim Butler’s letter to the President of the OHA can be found on his website.
Now 18 months later, OSMA recently joined a lawsuit with the OHA to block the implementation of the law. They argue that it is not possible to get this reasonable estimate in a timely manner because insurance carriers determine the out of pocket cost and there are simply too many insurance plans. In late December, Williams County Common Pleas Court judge J.T. Stelzer issued a 30 day restraining order blocking the law from taking effect on January 1, 2017.
PATIENTS HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW THE COST
The Ohio Hospital Association now argues that insurance carriers ‘set the price’ and the hospitals have no control over these prices. But this is false. It is the hospitals who negotiate a contract with the insurance carriers to determine the cost of each and every procedure. While the insurance carrier negotiates a contract with the patient regarding co-pays and deductibles, it is the hospitals who are responsible for the cost. Most people do not realize that the same test procedure will cost different amounts from one facility to another. Sometimes up to 75% more. For those with health insurance such as Medicare where you have a 20% responsibility, a $2500 CT scan and a $400 CT scan is a significant difference; a $500 out of pocket bill in the hospital or a $80 bill at an independent outpatient facility. People have a right to shop around for quality and cost.
A staff member of mine recently sent her son to a physical therapist at a local hospital while she herself was seeing a physical therapist in an independent practice. Her son’s bill for a 15 minute appointment to have his pinky finger worked on cost her $250. While her 1 hour appointment for her back cost only $65 at the independent practice. She tells me had she known the high cost with the therapist working for the hospital, she would definitely made him go to the other facility.
THE INFORMATION IS READILY AVAILABLE
Those opponents argue that this will delay treatment because the information is not readily available. This is not true. Most insurance carriers have online system that practices can use to plug in the patient’s exact insurance plan along with the ICD-10 procedure codes that will be used. That system , in existence for years, will provide an estimate of cost based on the current contract with that facility.
First Dayton Cancer Care has been providing these estimates to our patients since opening in 2003. Radiation therapy is one of the most complicated set of billing codes in any specialty, yet we manage to provide estimates within 24 hours. Most of our patients appreciate knowing what their out of pocket expense will be so that they can begin planning for it. Many insurance carriers provide a website where their members can do a cost estimator and it will show them what each facility in their surrounding area charges. The information is readily available. In the past 13 years our billing company, MAXX Medical states that providing these estimates has gotten easier. They are able to provide an estimate within an average of +3%.
THE PATIENT IS A CONSUMER
I do agree that there are specifics to the Healthcare Price Transparency law that need to be worked out. But the state of Ohio, the OHA and OSMA have had 18 months to work this out. The state needs to establish guidelines that relieve some of the burden on the provider and to ensure that the language protects the provider if the insurance carrier provides incorrect information. However, the OSMA and the OHA needs to be advocating for the patient first. Patients do not have lobbyists fighting for them. They need to be told of their right to ask for a cost estimate.
Patients also need to respect that when an estimate is given, it does not mean that we value their payment more than we do providing quality care. We feel by providing this estimate we are helping the patient make informed decisions about both about their health and their family finances. But in all things you purchase, you demand quality and a fair price. Your health should be no different. Price transparency in healthcare is critical in today’s world.
If you are in need of excellent cancer care, call me today at 1-855DAYTON1. Not only will I see you in 1-3 days for an initial visit, but I will provide you with an estimate before treatment begins!