Saturday, December 16, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: U.S. health pricing too opaque

Someone uninsured, needing hip replacement surgery and seeking the least expensive procedure would soon find out that nearly one in every two hospitals can't provide that kind of basic cost information, according to a recent survey. This speaks volumes about the health care system in the United States, where it is nearly impossible for consumers to comparison shop. If bending the cost curve for medical care is the key to making health insurance affordable, forcing prices out into the open would be a good starting point.

The survey conducted by Jaime Rosenthal, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, was a simple request for the estimated cost of a hip replacement for an uninsured 62-year-old female that she made last summer to more than 100 hospitals from every state. The results she obtained are startling. Each hospital was contacted up to five times for the information, yet despite the persistence, only about half could provide it. Those that did respond had prices so varied that they ranged up to 10 times more for the same procedure. Quotes varied from $11,100 to $125,798 depending upon the hospital, according to the study by Rosenthal and two co-authors published in JAMA International Medicine.

The researchers describe how difficult it was to get an answer to a simple question on price that every other service industry dependably provides: "We were frequently transferred between departments, asked to leave messages that were rarely returned, and told that prices could not be estimated without an office visit." Anyone who has tried to comparison shop for health services has suffered similar frustrations.

In a clear demonstration of how opaque pricing distorts the marketplace, the huge differentials in price estimates were not necessarily correlated to quality. According to the study, some of the best-ranked hospitals had lower prices.

Medical pricing is complex partly because the same medical procedure will be reimbursed differently based on whether the payer is a government program such as Medicaid or Medicare, or a private insurer with a separately negotiated price schedule. But that doesn't excuse the fact that people without any insurance can end up being charged multiples of what someone in a large group insurance plan is charged. If prices were based on the actual cost of providing care, this wouldn't happen.

The cure here is sunlight. A 2011 Florida law requires urgent care centers to prominently display the prices of its 50 most common medical services for self-pay patients. More of this is needed. Only with transparent pricing will higher deductible health care plans have the desired effect of spurring medical consumers to shop around and drive down prices.

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Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17