By Josh Archambault, Founder of Presidents Lane Consulting, Senior Fellow at both Cicero and Pioneer Institutes, and member of the SPN Healthcare Working Group
Patients need more pricing information to make the best care decision with their provider. It is not about just finding the lowest-cost option, but also the best-value option that is affordable, high quality, and convenient. Patients want and deserve more certainty and predictability, and healthcare price transparency is one area where states can make this reality possible for patients.
1. Codify federal insurer rule.
To safeguard healthcare price transparency advancements made at the federal level and prevent them from another federal administration pulling back on these improvements, similar provisions requiring insurers to post real prices for patients to compare rates on a tool should be codified into state law. Requiring insurers to post real prices for patients at the state level will ensure that patients enjoy these protections regardless of what happens in Washington.
States with model healthcare price transparency laws:
2. Codify federal hospital rule.
To hedge the risk that a federal administration will pull back the 2019 hospital price transparency rule at the request of special interests and to the detriment of patients, similar provisions requiring hospitals to post a machine-readable file of real prices for all items and services should be codified into state law. This would allow patients to compare prices for services like MRIs, outpatient procedures, exams, and more between multiple hospitals.
States with model healthcare price transparency regulations:
3. Robust advanced explanation of benefits (AEOB).
Knowing the prices ahead of time can remove anxiety for patients. Congress took the first step toward this goal by passing something called an Advanced Explanation of Benefits as part of the No Surprises Act. An AEOB requires providers to coordinate with insurers to send patients their estimated out-of-pocket costs ahead of time. This information is helpful, but big hospital systems often manipulate plan designs in negotiation to make themselves look more affordable to patients from an out-of-pocket standpoint, but charge higher rates for the service.
In response, states should build on the AEOB concept and require additional information to be included such as the estimated negotiated rate, the range of rates paid for the same procedure by the insurer in the past, average rates, and information on how a patient could compare prices between care options. This information provides patients with details on where to seek their care and context around pricing.
Which states have AEOB requirements? A few states as listed above have insurer price transparency laws; however, this reform would further protect patients by making price transparency automatic and require more information be provided to patients.
4. Healthcare price transparency at all locations.
The new federal hospital rule only requires hospitals to disclose prices. Patients need to know prices at many care settings to know their options, not just prices at hospitals. States should require or incentivize price disclosure at all state-licensed facilities and practices for which care could be shopped.
Like the hospital rule, this price disclosure should also include the cash or out-of-pocket price. It has been reported that cash prices can be significantly lower than insured rates, and some patients may want to pay that rate instead of using their insurance. Transparency here will also deter exorbitant cash prices that surprise patients.
States with healthcare price transparency regulations beyond hospitals:
5. Ensure implementation of price transparency in healthcare.
Knowing the price of care upfront is the only way to achieve a fully functional marketplace in health care that consistently delivers better quality, more affordable care. States can ensure that patients and small businesses gain full access to transparent pricing by vigorously enforcing transparency requirements.
To signal the importance of price transparency requirements, a state could link compliance to receiving or maintaining the license by which hospitals, provider groups of a certain size, and insurers are able to operate. The state could also decide to link noncompliance with to the state’s recognition of the company’s nonprofit status. This recognition conveys a huge tax advantage—a benefit companies would risk losing if they do not comply with price transparency requirements. Additionally, states could consider linking noncompliance to long-term participation in state employee health plans. At a minimum, noncompliance should trigger a significant financial penalty.
States with model healthcare price transparency requirements:
6. Give state agencies more tools to enforce price transparency.
Designate the state Division or Department of Insurance or Attorney General as the enforcer of healthcare price transparency laws. Allow these agencies to levy state penalties for enforcement, that could be given back to consumers in the form of a rebate (like they are for the medical loss ratio (MLR)) or contribute it towards a state-run reinsurance program. All state Attorneys General have consumer protection responsibilities that could be utilized to prevent price gouging with more price transparency.
7. Reward public employees with right-to-shop shared savings.
Healthcare prices can vary by hundreds or thousands of dollars for the exact same in-network service or procedure. Paying patients share savings incentives when they choose lower-cost care. This motivates patients to seek value and grants high-value providers a tool to attract more patients. States have flexibility in the way they choose to provide such incentives, including but not limited to gift cards, lower premiums or deductibles, or even cash.
Close to a dozen states are currently running a version of shared savings for public employees. Patient shared savings incentive programs have been shown to save millions for taxpayers and state employees in longer-standing programs like one in Kentucky.
States with model shared savings incentive programs: Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Texas, New Hampshire, Utah and Virginia.
8. Expand right-to-shop shared savings to individuals and small business market.
States should ask insurers in the individual and small business markets to offer products that reward patients directly with shared savings for picking a lower-cost, high-value option. Shared savings could be focused on lower-cost care in-network. However, to maximize patient savings, it could also apply to lower-cost, out-of-network options.
The shared savings can come in the form of cash, a Health Savings Account (HSA) contribution, or a deductible or premium reduction. To ensure these incentives to save money are properly aligned with how insurers account for medical spending, the federal insurer price transparency rule already allows insurers to count a shared savings payment as medical spending when calculating the MLR.
States with model right-to-shop shared savings:
9. Pay cash for high-value care, get credit toward deductibles to build a market.
States should require insurers to provide in-network credit towards any out-of-pocket responsibility if the patient chooses to see an out-of-network provider that delivers a better deal (e.g., provides care below a certain benchmark such as below average in-network rates). In this circumstance, the patient’s choice saved themselves and insurers money.
Providers often will accept a lower cash rate because they avoid costly administrative expenses. Many lower-cost independent providers have been pushed out of network because they are not part of large health systems. Under the status quo, many patients are overpaying for services.
States with model out-of-network provider credits:
10. Allow smaller companies to see how their healthcare dollars are spent.
Large companies have the clout and resources to see how their health care dollars are spent. By contrast, small companies are in the dark. As a result, most small companies have no idea if they are getting a good deal, if they should change their plan designs to better serve their employees or buy coverage another way.
States with model healthcare spending laws:
11. Ban anti-competitive contracting provisions, including gag clauses on price.
Contracts between healthcare providers and insurers often feature clauses that harm patients. By banning the following practices, states can begin to reverse the process of consolidation in American health care and protect patients from overpaying for care.
States with model bans on anti-competitive provisions:
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