Slowly, state laws requiring price transparency for healthcare-related costs are beginning to work. However, much room forprogress remains, as can be seen in the results of the fourthannual state pricing transparency survey.

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The survey was produced by the nonprofit healthpolicy tandem of the Health Care Incentives Improvement Instituteand the Catalyst for Payment Reform. Their report card grades states on avariety of metrics, analyzing their transparency laws for bothscope and ease of implementation.

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The report notes that the laws are often much stronger in theorythan in execution, a major obstacle to achieving true nationalhealth care pricetransparency.

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The A Team remains an elite one, with but three members: NewHampshire, Colorado and Maine. The latter two moved to As from Bsin 2016. Even achieving a C grade is no easy task, somethingaccomplished by just two states: Vermont and Virginia.

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Also cited for excellent effort was Oregon, where itstransparency grade rose from a dismal F last year to a solid B thisyear. The ascension was largely because of the passage of a new andstronger transparency law that was supported by a “consumer-facingtransparency website.” Websites are critical to the stellarperformances of the class valedictorians, the grading tandemsays.

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Of the remaining states, one (Arkansas) received a D, and therest took home Fs. Perhaps the curve should be recalculated.

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But no, say the strict graders, failure is failure and that iswhat is most characteristic about health care price transparency inAmerica.

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“In this year’s report card we find that too many states stillfall far short of requiring and implementing thorough, useabletransparency resources,” the report says. “Dozens of states havelaws that refer to price transparency, but provide little to helpconsumers shop for and choose care, and offer little potential tomove the health care delivery system toward quality andaffordability.”

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Main factors in the lack of effectiveness of state transparencylaws include “the scope of providers whose cost information isavailable to consumers, the type of cost included, and theaccessibility of the information.”

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It is in these crucial areas that states need to showsignificant improvement if health care consumers are ever to have afighting chance to have some control over their health carefinancial decisions.

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“Design and implementation of the legislation matter. In fact,the potential for transparency to empower consumers, shift costsdown, and raise quality rests entirely on the strength andcomprehensiveness of each state law’s implementation. This is aperspective that is often lost in some of the research on theeffectiveness of price transparency, even though no one should besurprised that weak resources yield poor results,” the reportconcludes.

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.