Hospital legislation would help inform public about prices

March 28, 2013 

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer last year ran a series on hospital costs which showed great variations in charges, inflated drug prices and other curiosities among nonprofit hospitals in the state. Now two Republican state senators have brought forth a bill to require hospitals to make their charges for their most common procedures available to the public.

It is a good step, though one likely to cause consternation among hospitals, which have one of the most powerful lobbying operations on Jones Street. Nevertheless, it’s hard to find fault with such disclosure. More information won’t just allow patients to make informed decisions (although most follow suggestions made by their primary care physicians or specialists) but might help hold down costs and prevent inflated charges.

Hospitals typically justify their charges by saying they must bill the insured patients in a way that will make the care they provide for those who are uninsured possible. In America’s money-driven health care system, that’s understandable to a point. But the N&O and Charlotte Observer series found that charges sometimes get out of hand, with nonprofits sometimes charging drug prices as much as 10 times over cost. The consequences of that are felt by companies that provide health-care plans for employees and by the insured patients themselves, whose premiums only seem to climb year after year.

And meanwhile, giant nonprofit hospitals systems such as Duke and UNC continue to build empires by buying hospitals and doctors’ practices, leaving patients (and their primary care doctors) with fewer and fewer choices.

Information is power. The senators deserve credit for doing something to give average citizens more of it with regard to health care.

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