Princeton health economist Uwe Reinhardt – the keynote speaker at Health Journalism 2009 – spoke to U.S. News & World Report‘s Dr. Bernadine Healy about health reform. Their discussion revolved around the lack of transparency in medical pricing and the role it plays in high health care costs and also touched on insurance reform and the research needed to better understand what has caused regional health care cost disparities.
According to Reinhardt, American health care is expensive because our prices are high. It’s a surprisingly obvious statement. When compared to citizens from other countries, Americans pay higher prices for the same health products and services. To reduce this disparity, Reinhardt calls for full transparency in medical pricing and a standardized insurance coverage package.
My wife, May, called up the Princeton hospital and asked what a normal delivery would cost. She got nowhere. I called about a colonoscopy and got the same runaround. So I asked a guy at New Jersey Blue Cross. He just roared. “Are you serious? We pay 50 prices. We pay every hospital a different price. We pay the same hospital five different prices.”
I asked, “Are they public? Can I look them up?” The answer was, “No. That’s proprietary.” Imagine if a bunch of people were blindfolded, shoved into Macy’s, and told to shop prudently.
For years, I’ve argued hospitals should post their fees relative to Medicare. I’ve put it to the White House, the Senate. People look at me: “Are you serious? Transparency?”