By DAN FOX
Legislation has been brought before the Alaska House of Representatives that would require health care providers and facilities to display the full price of their most common services and procedures.
House Bill 123, introduced by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz of Anchorage, would make health care providers – including individual doctors and medical practitioners – disclose the average price charged to individuals for their 25 most frequently performed services from the previous calendar year.
Health care facilities such as hospitals and clinics would be required to provide their top 50 services.
“The purpose of the bill is to try to give health care consumers more information about the cost of care as they either plan to get care, or when they are in the doctor’s office, so they can make more informed decisions,” said Spohnholz, the bill’s sponsor. “Right now when you go to the doctor, you really have no idea how much something is going to cost and it makes it hard to make informed decisions.”
Spohnholz said the idea is to provide people with some of the “most basic” information, and help consumers get basic questions answered about health care treatments.
“What we’ve tried to do is work very closely with health care facilities and health care providers to make this as simple to implement as possible,” Spohnholz said.
“This should cost most healthcare providers absolutely nothing to implement.”
If the bill becomes law, facilities and practitioners must publish the list of services to their websites, send a copy to the Department of Health and Social Services and post a copy of the list in a conspicuous place in a waiting room.
“I have heard from several people that they were unpleasantly surprised by the cost of charges for services that they might not have gotten otherwise,” Spohnholz said.
When asked if seeing the high cost of procedures could potentially deter consumers from getting a needed medical procedure, Spohnholz said it was “a possibility,” but added the list of information would in no way be a replacement for a conversation with one’s doctor.
“What we know, though, is that a lot of people avoid getting care because they’re afraid of what it’s going to cost already as it is,” Spohnholz said.
Rep. Sam Kito III said that HB 123 is a good opportunity to begin a discussion on health care in the state.
“My feeling is there is a very big issue regarding accountability for health care costs that needs to be addressed,” Kito said.
Once the costs of health care procedures are widely known, opportunities to try and impact the amounts of those costs can be looked at, according to Kito.
Kito was unsure if the issue could be addressed in a comprehensive manner by a single piece of legislation, and added that such a process could take several years.
“Knowing the cost is one thing, controlling the cost is another thing,” Kito said.
Spohnholz said the bill has been referred to two house committees: the Health and Social Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
Over the next month, the bill will be discussed and will come before the house for a vote. After that, it will be the Alaska Senate’s decision whether or not to approve it.