For the fourth year in a row, New York State received an “F” in an annual report on price transparency when paying for health care. The grades are published every year by the Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR), an organization that wants to improve health care by changing how it is paid for.
Part of changing health care is giving consumers accurate price information so they can choose affordable providers. We’ve written before about how hard it is for consumers to get information about prices from New York’s hospitals. As the authors of this new report say, getting the price of a service before receiving it is “the very minimum amount of information a consumer would expect in any other transaction.”
New York is not alone – 43 other states also got failing grades. But there were successful states that New York could learn from. For example, Colorado’s Medical Price Compare website allows consumers to search for prices according to zip code and type of insurance, and links that price information to quality and customer service measures.
Colorado was able to build their consumer website because it has something called an all-payer claims database. An all-payer claims database is the best source of information about health prices, because it collects information about the actual bills that consumers and insurance plans paid. New York started working on an all-payer claims database in 2011, but we’ve received an “F” every year from CPR because it has no public component, and because the law creating our database says nothing about sharing the data with the public.
It’s time for New York to prioritize transparency in the health care market, and that starts with asking us what we need to become informed health consumers. One way to demonstrate the importance of this issue would be to convene a state-level consumer transparency task force, with strong consumer representation. The state has identified consumers as an important stakeholder, and indicated that a consumer-facing website will be part of the project in the future. But consumers have been told to take more responsibility for health care costs for years now through higher deductibles and higher cost-sharing, without being given meaningful information about their choices. After five years of planning for the claims database, it is fair to start asking when and how consumers will benefit. A task force with adequate consumer representation would be one way to ensure that progress is made and that the end results are guided by consumers’ priorities.