By Carla K. Johnson, AP Medical Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Flower shop owner Bob Hausheer would like to know why he can't walk into a doctor's office and see a list of prices.
The 45-year-old suburban Chicago man has a $5,000 deductible, meaning he pays for his health care — including a $7,500 back surgery last year — mostly out of his own wallet.
Until he got the bill, he didn't know what the surgery would cost him.
"At a coffee shop, you can see that your latte is $2.50 and your grande is $3.50," Hausheer said. But not in health care. "This is the only industry that I know of that does things like that," he said. "Prices are not understood upfront."
Until now, the push for price transparency hasn't played much of a role in the national debate over health care reform. However, the Senate Finance Committee version of health care overhaul would require hospitals to list their standard charges for services.
The bill, unveiled Wednesday by committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., also would require health plans to report how much of each dollar paid in premiums goes to items other than medical care.
President Barack Obama supports creating an insurance exchange where consumers and small business owners could shop for health insurance. But it's unclear whether such an exchange would promote publishing prices for procedures, said Elizabeth McGlynn, associate director of Rand Health, a nonpartisan research program. It's also not clear that provisions in the Baucus bill would offer useful information for consumers, McGlynn said.
"Health reform may offer an opportunity for that agenda to be pushed forward on a broader scale than it would be otherwise," McGlynn said. "One of the biggest challenges people face is getting access to information that makes them smart shoppers."
Finding out how much a medical procedure costs is more difficult and mysterious than buying a new car. With a new car, there's a sticker price. With health care, there's no starting line for haggling.