Do Some Medical Shopping

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By Bill Koch, editor

Ask your hospital to provide you with a detailed price list of services so that you can do some shopping before you decide to get treatment. After all, you may want to know how much those midnight aspirin pills are going to cost.

Your question may elicit some strange looks from hospital officials who may signal for security to have you removed from the premises.

A bill moving through the state House may allow Florida health insurance policy holders to do some comparison shopping for medical treatments and procedures.

The Patient Savings Act, House Bill 1113, gives people the ability to recoup a quarter of any savings they find and present to their insurers.

The bill garnered unanimous support in the House Ways and Means Committee late last month. The bill also has bipartisan support.

Similar legislation is making its way through the state Senate.

While policy makers debate proposals to fix the ailing U.S. health-care system, putting medical costs on display injects more opportunity for consumers to make wiser, more informed choices. It may also provide incentives to get better educated about treatment options and, as a pleasant side effect, produce more responsible consumer choices.

Not having a price list before you commit to treatment is inane. Imagine going to a dealership where cars have no stickers. You only find out how much your new car costs after you’ve signed the paperwork.

How about going to a restaurant and reading menus with no prices? You ask the waitress and she shrugs: We can’t tell you the price of your meal until after you’ve eaten it.

The bills circulating in the legislature require providers to post costs of medical services on their websites. The websites are then linked into Florida’s transparency website. 

The website would provide those seeking treatment with a list of participating health-care providers and an itemization of the savings incentives available for “services.”

This measure will serve to cut – at least on the surface – some of the vast red tape that entangles and binds a very tightly regulated industry, making it increasingly inefficient and wasteful.

In most other American industries, two economic forces (government and the free market) counterbalance each other, producing relative stability and allowing for growth.

One the one side, government, in its ideal form, enacts rules to protect consumers from unscrupulous vendors and underhanded practices in a market-based system.

On the other, capitalism’s fierce competitiveness tends to generate more affordable product and service offerings and a wider selection of goods.

Why should the medical industry be exempt from this paradigm?

While the U.S. medical industry has arguably held the top honor in composite global rankings for quality of health care, it is fraught with fractures and inefficiencies, which seem to lead to even more draconian and often special interest-serving fixes. Possessing one of the most unhealthy populaces among developed nations, the United States is also heavy laden with one of the world’s largest industries, pharmaceuticals, which, ironically, finds most its consumers in the United States.

This is time to let the bright lights of consumer choice shine brightly into the abyss of American health care to bring some refreshing perspective. This bill would take health care out of the hands of bureaucrats and return it to consumers, where it rightly belongs.

When it comes to your desk, governor, sign it!

And then let’s go shopping.