Why Is Medical Pricing So Opaque?

Dec 8 2011 @ 10:36am

Josh Barro recently switched to a high-deductible plan. He's now more aware of medical pricing, but finds that it's virtually impossible to figure out how much doctors visits and medical services actually cost: 

High-deductible plans are supposed to help control medical costs, because consumers, with "skin in the game," will make frugal medical choices. But how can we exercise frugality if we have to make the choice to buy medical services before we know what they cost? How can we comparison shop if we can’t easily find out competitors’ prices? It doesn’t have to be this way. We could legally obligate hospitals and medical practices to disclose their full price lists—both the inflated list prices and the rates negotiated with each insurer that the practice accepts. This would enhance price competition between medical providers and significantly strengthen the Health Savings Account model. HSAs and high-deductible plans give health care consumers an incentive to impose price discipline. Pricing transparency would give them the tools they need to do so.