Tag Archives: transparency

More on understanding – and unearthing – health care costs

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

The post we did on Clear Health Costs got a lot of positive reaction so we asked the team involved in a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-funded project involving two California public radio stations and the cost-tracking group to tell you more about it in their own words.

In the tip sheet, Lisa Aliferis of KQED, Rebecca Plevin from SCPR and Jeanne Pinder of clearhealthcosts.comgive you a glimpse under thehood of health care costs. “Health care costs both lack transparency and are wildly variable, not just from region to region but sometimes from block to block within the same city,” they begin.

They explain a few basics: what you pay, what insurers pay, what providers are paid, and what almost no one (except some of the uninsured) pays – the Chargemaster price.  Even if you can’t build a data collection project, you can write about the variability in your community. “Put a human face on these dollar figures. Talk to people who have felt burned by the cost of a medical procedure, or confused by a huge bill. “ You might be able to find a handful of people who have had the same procedure in the same place – or the same procedure at two facilities just blocks apart in a city, or in adjacent counties in a more rural setting – and find how their experiences differed.

The “How I Did It” article by Lisa Pickoff-White, senior news interactive producer, KQED; Joel Withrow, product manager, KPCC/SCPR; and Pinder is more nitty-gritty. Your organization may not be able to do something on this scale, but it’s still worth a read to see how they approached it, what worked, and what tools they used (not just on the technical side – see the bottom of the post for other project management and collaboration tools). Facing an eight-week deadline they had to coordinate a far-flung team of journalists, data crunchers and developers scattered in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Bialystok, Kiev and Tahiti. (yes, Ukraine and Tahiti.)

Six (or more) things to remember when reporting on health care costs

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

health-care-costs-reportersHealth care costs lack transparency and are wildly variable, not just from region to region but sometimes from block to block within the same city.

It is a complex topic, with chargemaster prices, what insurers paid and what consumers pay (if anything). Then there are the administrative rules set by Medicare and Medicaid and the negotiated rates between insurers and providers.

It’s daunting, but Lisa Aliferis of KQED, Rebecca Plevin of SCPR and Jeanne Pinderof clearhealthcosts.com have teamed up to offer guidance for reporting on health care costs in this new AHCJ tip sheet.

AHCJ, HHS officials address appeal process for inadequate responses by PIOs

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski, a founding member of AHCJ, is an independent writer and editor specializing in health care and policy whose honors include two team Pulitzer Prizes and a Pulitzer finalist citation for medical journalism. Wielawski, a member of AHCJ's board of directors, is chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee and also serves on the Freelance and the Finance and Development committees. You can follow her at @wielawski.

Reporters facing unreasonable delays or inadequate responses from media officials at an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can bring their complaints to one of three deputy assistant secretaries for public affairs.

In a phone conference on Wednesday between top HHS media officers and AHCJ board members, these officials were named as contacts for reporters having difficulties. Their names and the agencies whose media offices they oversee are listed below.

The phone conference was one in a regular series in which leaders of AHCJ’s Right to Know (RTK) Committee work with the HHS public affairs office to improve government transparency and access to information and experts.

As chair of the RTK committee, I joined board President Karl Stark and RTK Vice Chair Felice J. Freyer in representing AHCJ. We spoke with Dori Salcido, assistant secretary for public affairs, News Division Director Bill Hall, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Weber. Continue reading

High interest in reference pricing: Who knew? Uwe Reinhardt for one

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Uwe E. Reinhardt, Ph.D.

Last summer, Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health policy expert and economics professor at Princeton (and keynote speaker at Health Journalism 2009), predicted this would happen.

A contributor to the Economix blog for The New York Times, Reinhardt wrote, “In the arsenal now being assembled on the payment side of health care to address rising costs, reference pricing may well turn out to be the sleeper, because it is a potentially powerful method of ‘putting the patient’s skin in the game,’ the delicate phrase we use for ‘cost-sharing by patients.’”

Reference pricing is a sleeper no longer. It’s getting a lot of press lately and is the subject of a webinar at 1 p.m . ET today (see below for details).

It was mentioned in the big announcement from the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), which said on May 14 that it would work with three large health insurers to provide free consumer access to an online database of “the most accurate and timely information about the price and quality of health care services.” Starting early next year, HCCI said it will make price and quality data available from Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare. Continue reading

Analysis: Giving price data to wider audience would save $100 billion in 10 years

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image via wordle.net

Image via wordle.net

Most health care price transparency efforts are aimed at giving patients more information on costs at the point of care. Armed with this information, consumers will shop comparatively just as they do for cars, computers and appliances, driving down prices, health policy experts say.

Now a report released today says that not only should patients have more information on the cost of care but physicians, employers and policymakers should get cost information too. If all these groups had more information on what care costs, the effect would be a reduction in health care spending of $100 billion over 10 years, according to an analysis done by researchers for the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.

Health care price transparency information is not widespread, although many organizations recognize the value of giving such data to patients to promote comparison shopping, said Joseph Smith, M.D., chairman of the West Health Policy Center Board of Directors. If more groups had such data, there would be more awareness among all, and thus the potential for more shopping and more savings. Continue reading

Research: Price transparency could save billions in health care costs

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image of glass by Tim Caynes via flickr.

Image of glass by Tim Caynes via flickr.

It’s widely assumed that when patients have more information about the cost of care they drive down health care costs by voting with their feet. To date, this assumption has been just that: a theory.

In an attempt to address the debate, researchers will release an analysis from the West Health Policy Center on May 15 that estimates that more price transparency in health care could be a source of more than $100 billion in savings over 10 years. The potential for significant savings is intriguing, and the fact that the analysis comes from highly respected health care researchers is significant.

The researchers include Paul B. Ginsburg, Ph.D., the former president of the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) who is a professor at the University of Southern California, and Chapin White, Ph.D., a former senior researcher at HSC who is now at the RAND Corporation. Others working on the analysis include former HSC researchers who are now at Mathematica Policy Research: Kristie Liao, James D. Reschovsky, Ph.D., and Ha T. Tu. Another researcher contributing to the analysis is Joseph M. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., the chairman of the West Health Policy Center board of directors and chief medical and science officer of the West Health Institute. Continue reading

As new year begins, consumers lack data to make informed health care decisions

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

One of the biggest health care news stories of 2013 was the lack of price transparency. But consumers need much more than price information to know how to shop for health care services.

They need extensive information on the quality of care physicians, hospitals, and other providers deliver. Unfortunately, data on the quality that physicians and hospitals deliver are not as widespread or as robust as they need to be.

A recent report, “State Report Card on Transparency of Physician Quality Information,” from the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute (HCI3) addresses the issue, saying:

“… finding information on the quality of physicians remains elusive for most consumers. While Medicare has a public web site that contains information on physicians, it is completely void of any data on the quality of care delivered. That’s all the more surprising since physicians have been reporting a basket of quality measures to Medicare for several years.

“There are commercial websites that provide some information on the quality of physician care, but there’s often a fee to pay for the full report, and the objectivity of the data on those sites has been questioned by many researchers.”

Continue reading

Keep in mind unintended consequences of price transparency

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or tweet to @rojasburke.

Image by Tim Caynes via flickr.

Image by Tim Caynes via flickr.

It’s always a good idea for reporters to think about unintended consequences, especially when we’re talking about the latest, trendiest policy fixes. I’m thinking of such ideas as requiring people who need medical care to put more “skin in the game” and to choose medical services with more attention to the prices. What could go wrong?

In an eye-opening essay for The New Yorker, Lisa Rosenbaum explores the consequences for people with limited means to pay. She makes the case that injecting price transparency into patient-doctor encounters could, if not done thoughtfully, “end up hurting most those we are trying to help.”

Rosenbaum, a cardiologist, starts with a first-person account of suffering a serious injury, and reflects on how pain and fear in such circumstances alter the way we think and make decisions, even among those who are pretty well off: Continue reading

Report shows how reference pricing brings down costs

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

dollar-signsOne issued we pursued during the AHCJ webcast last month (The cost of health care: Is transparency possible?) is whether price transparency will drive costs up or down.

The members of our panel reported that price transparency will cause providers to drop their prices, and now new research shows that when reference pricing is combined with price transparency, costs tend to decline as well.

A reference pricing initiative in California motivated hospitals to reduce prices for hip and knee replacements, according to a study released earlier this month by the Center for Studying Health System Change. HSC conducted the research for the National Institute for Health Care Reform.

The HSC report, “Potential of Reference Pricing to Generate Health Care Savings: Lessons from a California Pioneer,” showed that when the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) introduced reference pricing for patients seeking hip and knee replacements, the initiative had two positive results. First, it helped steer patients to lower-price hospitals, and second, it motivated hospitals to reduce prices for these joint replacement procedures. Continue reading

Will price transparency drive up health care costs?

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

transparency-webcastWill increased price transparency in health care drive up costs? That’s what a health plan association executive suggested last week and it’s a question I’ll ask panelists during our webcast on price transparency on Thursday at 1 pm Eastern time: The cost of health care: Is transparency possible?

Once lower-paid physicians see what higher-paid doctors are charging, lower-cost doctors will demand higher rates from health insurers, David Pittman reported in MedPage Today. Quoting Dan Durham, executive vice president for policy and regulatory affairs for American’s Health Insurance Plans, Pittman wrote that by demanding higher prices, low-cost providers would drive up premiums, making coverage less affordable. Continue reading