A little transparency


Published: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 11:50 p.m.

Trying to read and understand the average hospital bill, Gov. Jeb Bush suggested this week, is an exercise in frustration and futility.

That's why one of Bush's health care reform initiatives calls for more "transparency" in health care transactions - so consumers can make "apples-to-apples . . . comparisons of hospital and other health care provider charges, costs and outcomes."

It's a good idea.

And along those lines, legislation has been proposed that would require hospitals to disclose their prices and their performance records on the Web.

"Informed consumers are a vital part of any long-term solution to today's health-care access and affordability issues. Consumers can and should have more input and control over their health-care costs so they could comparison shop," state Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said this week.

Along with Rep. Donna Clarke, R-Sarasota, Alexander is sponsoring a bill to help make transparency in health care a reality.

One reason hospital bills tend to be so incomprehensible to the average consumer is that it isn't patients, but third-parties like insurance companies and HMOs that pay most of the bills. But a main thrust of Bush's initiatives is to give consumers more say over how their health care dollars are spent. And that won't happen unless the whole process of billing is demystified.

"We believe price and performance disclosures will increase information and decrease costs," Stephen Birtman, of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, told The Tallahassee Democrat this week in supporting the disclosure legislation.

Controlling soaring health care costs is one of the major challenges facing Florida. Transparency seems an important first-step in understanding those costs and coming to grips with them.

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