Pink October video shines light on women’s health — and their right to know prices

Hospitals should put you in the pink, not in the red.

Every October, the pink ribbons and flamingoes come out to raise breast cancer awareness. However, Pink October should go beyond breast cancer awareness to shine the light on women’s health overall, and, as important, the huge responsibility women bear as chief decision makers for their families’ health care.

In the United States, women make 80% of the health-care decisions for their families, yet many of these same women forego their own health care.

A new video released in honor of Pink October is highlighting the fact that a new law has gone into effect that should help women not only better manage their families’ health care, but also help them take better care of themselves. This is critical, as national health-care spending consumes one fifth of the average household budget, and represents nearly one-fifth of GDP, meaning Americans must work the equivalent of one day per week just to pay for their health care.

The video starts with good news: “Thanks to a new federal rule, we Americans have won the right to know the cost of our healthcare before we get it,” says the chipper female narrator. “Imagine that? We get to know the price of our health care before we get smacked with a huge bill we could not see coming.”

Now the chief financial officers of households across America can finally shop for health care the way they shop for everything else: cars, houses, clothing and groceries.

Eventually, a mobile app will let these women buy health care on their devices. Once they no longer have to worry about receiving care that could result in getting a “scary, giant mystery bill” they can stop delaying getting the care they need. Then, maybe fewer women would die of, say, breast cancer.

If that seems too good to be true, so far it is.

Although the new Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires hospitals to post their actual prices — including their discounted cash prices, payer-specific negotiated charges, and de-identified minimum and maximum negotiated charges,— online in an easily accessible format, most are not. A recent report found that that 94.4% of hospitals weren’t following the rule.

Most analysts agree that once health-care price transparency is widespread, which depends on hospitals and ultimately insurers following the transparency rules, competition will enter our price-opaque health-care market, causing prices for care and coverage to plummet. Comparing prices will allow women to find more affordable care, and employers to find more affordable health-plans. Those realized savings could turn into more household income, more jobs, and higher wages.

Yet hospitals are still keeping patients in the dark. Their non-compliance, researchers found, takes many forms:

  • Some are simply not posting their prices at all.
  • Some, if they are posting prices, are making them impossible to access.
  • Some are posting incomplete lists.
  • Others are making the price lists unnecessarily confusing.
  • The few hospitals that are posting prices are showing that prices for the same service ranges dramatically. A C-section can be $6,000 or $60,000 at the same hospital, depending on the insurance plan. Oddly, cash prices are often lower than the prices private insurance companies negotiate for us.
  • Some hospitals are providing only estimates, which are meaningless since an estimate is not a guaranteed price.
  • Many hospitals are only providing prices after patients cough up a bunch of personal information, like their name, email address and insurance plan, even though the rule states hospitals must provide prices “without barriers.”

Making matters worse, the government has yet to fine a single hospital for not complying with the government’s own rule.

As a result, women who finally think they can get the care they and their families need with a guaranteed price cannot.

Fortunately, a national movement is underway to demand prices and it’s gaining traction. From NASCAR to unions, from boardrooms to bedrooms, America is waking up to the fact that they have won the right to know prices.

Now, the government needs to listen to voters not lobbyists and enforce the rule. They need to impose costly fines on hospitals that don’t post actual prices. And the rest of us need to hold our hospitals accountable, demand real prices, not estimates.

It’s time. Our hospitals should put us in the pink, not in the red.

Marni Jameson Carey is the executive director of the Association of Independent Doctors (www.aid-us.org), a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan trade association.

This article was originally published on Medical Economics®.