There was a time when consumers shopped for new cars with the same kind of limitations that hinder them from shopping for affordable health care today. The Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958, passed five decades after Model Ts first rolled onto the streets, finally brought about published sticker prices for new cars. In today's Internet-powered world, consumers now enjoy a wealth of information -- far beyond simple sticker prices -- that help them select the vehicles that best fit their needs. Powerful politicians, from the president on down, have recently stepped up their efforts to arm consumers with similar knowledge about health care services and supplies. With increasing force, they have been calling for detailed pricing information on everything from hospital procedures to medical devices to prescription drugs, and -- despite resistance from powerhouses inside the health care industry itself -- they insist that they will win out in the end. Already, millions of customers have signed up for increasingly popular "consumer-driven" health care plans that promise more affordable coverage. However, experts say, those customers still need far more information -- about both prices and quality -- in order to effectively shop for the health care services they require. Thus, some foresee major changes on the way. The Center for Health Transformation, an organization founded three years ago by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is at the forefront of that ever-growing crowd. "Health care is the last significant sector of the economy in which transparency isn't apparent and everywhere," Jim Frogue, state project director for the center, told TheStreet.com this week. "We think that the more transparency -- in all sectors -- the better. ... The publicly traded companies that embrace this trend will be fine. But those that try to fight it, that try to resist it, are going to get hurt."
'Like It or Not'
The center has pushed for enhanced disclosures from hospital companies in particular. Some crucial information has, in fact, already started rising to the surface. Notably, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently promised to start publishing the government-discounted rates it pays for common hospital procedures. Such data, some feel, should help consumers -- who have long been in the dark -- determine how much they should pay for those services themselves.