Price Tags on Medical Items? It Could Happen.
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
A Wisconsin Congressmember last month filed a bill that would require providers of health care products and services, including health insurance, to put a price tag on everything they offer. There’s a good reason why Rep. Steve Kagan (D-WI8) wants people to know what they – or their insurance companies – are paying for. Kagan, a physician, knows first hand what’s up.
That would be prices of common health care items. A CNN report by Elizabeth Cohen cites obscenities such as $23 for an alcohol swab, $1,000 for an ordinary toothbrush, and $140 for a single Tylenol pill. She found one woman who spent two hours in the ER getting rehydrated with a bag of intravenous saline solution ($41) and was charged for 41 bags – for a total of $4,182.
Cohen says insurance companies rarely question a hospital bill for less than $100,000. They get the money back anyway – by raising insurance premiums. So we may not pay the hospital bill but we – and everyone else – get the bump resulting from the egregious overcharges, and, in the case of the IV bag, what looks like outright fraud.
The main part Kagan’s bill, which is 404 words long (that’s words, not pages), says this:
SEC. 2. TRANSPARENCY IN ALL HEALTH CARE PRICING.
(a) In General- Any and all individuals or business entities, including hospitals, physicians, nurses, pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, dentists, and the insurance entities described in subsection (d), and any other health care related providers or issuers that offer or furnish health care related items, products, services, or procedures (as defined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) for sale to the public shall publicly disclose, on a continuous basis, all prices for such items, products, services, or procedures in accordance with this section.
(b) Manner of Disclosure- The disclosure required under subsection (a) shall–
(1) be made in an open and conspicuous manner;
(2) be made available at the point of purchase, in print, and on the Internet; and
(3) include all wholesale, retail, subsidized, discounted, or other such prices the individuals or business entities described in such subsection accept as payment in full for items, products, services, or procedures such individuals or business entities furnish to individual consumers.
(c) Penalties- The Secretary of Health and Human Services may investigate any and all individuals or business entities that fail to comply with the requirements of this section and may impose on such individuals or business entities civil fines, or other civil penalties, as determined appropriate by the Secretary.
The bill, titled H.R. 4700, Transparency in All Health Care Pricing Act of 2010, has 17 confirmed co-sponsors, and could use more. Do you feel like asking your Representative in Congress to sign on? I sure do. You can locate your congressmember here.