Focusing On The Limits Of Healthcare Price Transparency Tools Can Limit Their Growth

There are primarily four very influential groups that decide what health insurance plans workers can access and the price of those plans. These groups include employers, policymakers, insurance companies, and medical care professionals and administrators. Unfortunately, these groups are doing very little to control healthcare costs.

Employers do not use their buying power and size to demand lower health plan premiums. Policymakers do not support regulations to control medical care prices. Health insurance companies do not work with regulators and health care professionals to improve administrative efficiencies. And medical care professionals and administrators ignore the impact of high medical care prices on consumers.

So with still no say on health plan design and price, workers now have primary responsibility for dealing with high healthcare costs. And they have no choice but to use the few tools available to them—wellness programs and price transparency tools. Wellness programs aren’t turning out to be the cost savers that everyone wanted them to be, but price transparency tools could. But first the focus needs to change from the limitation of transparency tools to making them more robust.

Price transparency tools are still in the infancy stage of development, yet critics are ready to dismiss them as too imperfect for use. And its not just curmudgeonly critics that are giving these tools the thumbs down, others minimize them as well. Doctors roared with contempt over the release of Medicare physician costs data. Health insurers promptly display the limits of their online price tools with prominent disclaimers. And articles abound about the geographical limitations of these tools.

But what if all of this negativity about price transparency tools is stalling its development. Yes, the tools are limited in that they do not include price data on every medical procedure. They also do not typically include performance data or account for geographical cost of living differences. However, there is the potential to address all of these “limitations.” And workers deserve more robust price transparency tools… And employers, policymakers, health insurers, and medical care professionals and administrators should work tirelessly to make sure they get them.

It’s counterproductive to tell workers that they have to take more responsibility for keeping healthcare costs down, and give them incomplete tools and information to reach this goal. It is also counterproductive to give up on price transparency tools in their infancy. The data and the technology exist to make these tools a game changer in the battle against inexplicable medical care prices.


This open enrollment season employers will require workers to assume more of the costs for their health insurance. They will offer wellness program incentives to defray a portion of the price of the plan. And they will remind employees to use online tools to help them choose a health plan. Hopefully, they will promote these tools as useful and necessary and not just limited. And, even more hopefully, they will take a leadership role in enhancing and improving these tools in the future.
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