From the opening paragraph of this WaPo article:
Hospital bills are about to become less mysterious. Within a few weeks, the Bush administration plans to publish the prices Medicare pays for common medical procedures, a move that advocates for the poor say will pressure hospitals to give uninsured patients the discounts provided to people with insurance.
I hate to get all nit-picky on this, but I have to.
First of all, this is not going to make hospital bills less mysterious AT ALL. There will still be five million billing codes, five million acronyms and foreign phrases, and lists and lists of things patients are charged for. No, this has nothing to do with simplifying bills.
What it does do is list the price Medicare pays for certain procedures.
But I'd like to see just exactly how, especially in the light of Medicare Part D, this listing is going to "give uninsured patients the discounts provided to people with insurance."
Really though, in the interest of fairness, let's look at how hospitals work with insurance companies. The insurance company agrees to cover services at a given hospital, and the hospital agrees to charge discounted prices because of the guarantee of patients.
What happens when an individual comes to the hospital? They have no contract with the hospital. If they're uninsured, they have no guarantee (nor can they make one) that they will return to the hospital for further business. And lastly, if they're poor and uneducated, they have no access to these price lists, have never heard of these price lists, and certainly have no clue how to use price lists to leverage their payment.
That being said, Medicare, with its huge bargaining power, should have control over how much it pays for services, and use that as general tool to influence more uniform pricing. Price transparency is generally a good thing, and something that we could certainly use more of.
But let's not be naive about what price transparency will accomplish.