Price Transparency Won’t Work Unless Patients Give a Hoot

And most don’t because the thinking is “my insurance will cover it.”

Companies that sell computers, cloths, food, or most other items Americans buy are not required by law to post their prices. But many do anyhow because consumers are always out to save money. Except when it comes to health care, argues Scott W. Atlas, MD, in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

All the recently passed and proposed legislation that seeks to bring price transparency to health care won’t work if consumers don’t really need to know and, for the most part, that’s the case, argues Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. And forget about any single-payer system being the answer, because “centralized models uniformly regulate costs by restricting health care use, generating lengthy delays for needed care, limiting access to important drugs and technology, and ultimately resulting in worse disease outcomes.”

Atlas says that two steps should be taken to make price transparency work. The first is to let everybody have a health savings account (HSA). He cites a study that “found that when patients have savings to protect in HSAs, the cost of care comes down without harmful impact on health by at least 15% annually.”

The second is to expand scope of practice for nurse practitioners and physician assistants. “Private clinics staffed by NPs and PAs provide cheaper routine primary care, including vaccinations, blood pressure monitoring and dispensing common drugs.”