The push for increased pricing transparency in health care over the past decade or so has been a flop, judging from new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The researchers behind the study called 120 hospitals “posing as a granddaughter seeking information on the price of a primary hip replacement for her 62-year-old grandmother.” In 2012, 14.2 percent of hospitals were unable to provide any pricing information. In 2016, the number rose to 44.2 percent.
“We found no evidence of improvement in hospitals’ ability to provide price estimates or reductions in the estimated price for [hip replacement] between 2012 and 2016,” the researchers write. “Our results provide sobering evidence that substantial efforts from government and industry to improve pricing transparency have had little tangible effect on availability of prices.”
In a related JAMA commentary, Anna D. Sinaiko of Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health writes:
"How do we get more traction with price-transparency efforts? One important step will be to broaden price-transparency initiatives to focus on more than just patients. Physicians can be thought of as 'buyers' of health care services on behalf of their patients when ordering tests and procedures, making referrals, or prescribing drugs. Physicians are a trusted source for patients, and efforts should be made to increase physician-patient cost conversations and to improve physician-directed price transparency so that physicians and patients understand tradeoffs and make better decisions about care together. This outcome will not be achieved without also realigning physicians’ own incentives so they are rewarded for choosing lower-priced and higher-value care."