State health facilities, doctors may be required to post consumer costs online - East Valley Tribune: Politics

State health facilities, doctors may be required to post consumer costs online

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Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013 3:31 pm | Updated: 3:57 pm, Tue Apr 9, 2013.

State lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to legislation designed to let Arizonans shop around for the least expensive CAT scan, hip replacement or even routine physical.

The measure would require hospitals and health care facilities to post online the costs of the 50 most often-performed procedures as well as the 50 most-used outpatient services. Doctors would have to list the prices of the 25 most common services they perform.

SB 1115 gained House approval on a 34-25 vote. The measure, which already has been approved by the Senate, now goes to the governor.

The legislation crafted by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, is based on the premise that informed consumers make better decisions. The idea is to allow individuals who pay their own bills to shop around.

But Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, who is a doctor, questioned the usefulness -- and the cost -- of such a law.

"That totally ignores the way our health pricing system has been structured in our state,'' he said. Meyer said hospitals and doctors will have to spend time and money to comply with the "red tape'' in the legislation.

"And it's unclear who will benefit from this bill,'' he said.

Those with comprehensive coverage normally worry little about bill charges, not only because it is paid by an insurance company but because those companies normally negotiate discounts with health care providers. Instead, the beneficiaries are designed to be those without insurance or whose coverage leaves them picking up much of the cost.

Meyer said those who might need a specific procedure already are free now to call a hospital or doctor and check out prices. But he said that won't help others.

"If you have an emergency I doubt you're going to go online and check prices,'' Meyer said. Anyway, he said, federal law specifically prohibits emergency room providers from discussing prices with those who need immediate treatment.

And Meyer said the whole requirement ignores the fact that not every condition needs the same treatment. For example, he said someone with a urinary tract infection might respond to antibiotics administered by a nurse practitioner or need actual hospitalization.

But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the legislation requires posting prices for procedures, not specific medical conditions. So that means someone who needs a CAT scan -- for whatever underlying medical condition -- would know the price ahead of time.

Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, said this pricing requirement will become even more important after enactment of the federal Affordable Care Act. He said many self-employed people will choose to pay a fine rather than what he said is the higher cost of buying their own coverage.

"When you don't know what the costs are for medical care, it's hard to save money and budget accordingly for your medical needs,'' he said.

Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said she supports the idea of transparency. But she said this legislation is an improper intrusion by the Legislature into how private businesses operate.

Lovas, however, said nothing in the measure dictates prices but simply requires posting.

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