By David Washburn
Senior Voice 

Bill requires doctors to post prices


April 1, 2017

A bill introduced this session in the Alaska state legislature would require health care providers to post medical care price information. The bill, HB 123, was sponsored by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz and co-sponsored by representatives Chris Tuck, Harriet Drummond, Justin Parish, Les Gara and Geran Tarr.

The goal, according to a sponsor statement from Spohnholz, is to empower consumers to make better decisions about their health care options by ensuring accessible information on medical pricing.

“Alaska has the second most expensive health care costs per person in the nation as a result of a small insurance market with limited provider competition,” Spohnholz writes in the sponsor statement. She continues, “Health care spending in Alaska increases faster than the rate of inflation despite the fact that Alaska’s use of health care services is lower than the nationwide average.”

Advocacy organizations for seniors and other groups have argued for years that the costs for medical services in Alaska are way too high compared to other states, even when factoring in the higher cost of living, and no one’s been able to satisfactorily explain why.

“Because of the murkiness around health care prices, consumers have little power to influence the cost of desperately needed medical services,” Spohnholz writes.

HB 123 will require individual health care providers to publish the undiscounted prices of the top 25 most commonly provided health care services and procedures. Larger facilities would provide price information for the 50 most commonly provided services and procedures. Price information would be disclosed in public spaces and on providers’ websites, and submitted to the state Dept. of Health and Social Services.

“Empowering consumers with price information allows patients to compare providers and ‘shop’ for high-value, cost-effective care,” Spohnholz writes. “Alaskans deserve to know what health care services and procedures will cost before they step into the doctor’s office.”

In a letter of support for the bill, dated March 10, the Alaska Commission on Aging notes that the need to improve transparency of medical health care pricing was listed as a top priority by seniors and other public members at Medicare Redesign community forums conducted by the commission at senior centers.

“Older Alaskans are particularly vulnerable to increases in medical costs as many live on fixed incomes,” states the letter, co-signed by Commission Chair David Blacketer and Executive Director Denise Daniello.

A committee substitute added a subsection to give health care providers the flexibility to add a disclaimer on their postings stating that the “undiscounted” price listed may be different than the actual amount paid by patients, depending on their insurance provider, eligibility for sliding scale fee services and other factors.

At Senior Voice press time, the committee substitute bill, CSHB123, was scheduled for a March 29 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.


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