Health Care Act

New campaign: Quit hiding health care costs from consumers

Harriet Gatter, a Charlotte breast cancer survivor, wanted to get a better price on an MRI but couldn’t get good information on who charges what.
Harriet Gatter, a Charlotte breast cancer survivor, wanted to get a better price on an MRI but couldn’t get good information on who charges what. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Advocates for patients and health-care providers launched a campaign Thursday to demand that average people get better information about health care costs and quality.

The Clear Choices Campaign says its mission is “bipartisan, constructive and practical solutions that will benefit the operation of efficient markets while improving consumer welfare.” The AARP, Aetna and the National Consumers League are among the founding members.

It’s a timely topic. I recently reported on the growing number of Charlotte-area employers who are switching their work force to insurance with high out-of-pocket risks. Harriet Gatter, a Charlotte cancer survivor whose high-deductible plan requires her to pay for her annual MRIs, talked about how tough it is to compare costs when no one wants to talk about what they charge.

The new advocacy group is tackling that issue, along with the related question of how good the care is. Among the goals: “Better up-front information on the price, cost, quality, and safety of healthcare providers and their services. Consumers need and want to know which doctor is best or charges the least before having a procedure done.”

Few would argue with that goal – though as Gatter found, the rhetoric outstrips the reality at this point. Various attempts at health care reform, including the Affordable Care Act, are working to get more information out.

This month the federal government plans to release five-star hospital ratings based on patient satisfaction data.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina got national attention earlier this year when it gave the public access to average reimbursements for a range of procedures. However, those costs don’t predict what any individual will pay, especially if they’re covered by another company. The company recently updated its introductory page to help people understand what the numbers mean.

Helms: 704-358-5033;

Twitter: @anndosshelms. This blog post is done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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