Meaningful information about health-care prices is difficult for consumers to obtain, the Government Accounting Office has discovered in a report just made public.

The GAO report found a number of anomalies: “when GAO contacted physicians’ offices to obtain information on the price of a diabetes screening, several representatives said the patient needs to be seen by a physician before the physician could determine which screening tests the patient would need,” it says, in part.

“According to provider association officials, consumers may have difficulty obtaining complete cost estimates from providers because providers have to know the status of insured consumers’ cost sharing under health benefit plans, such as how much consumers have spent towards their deductible at any given time. … Several insurance company officials …  said that contractual obligations with providers may prohibit the sharing of negotiated rates with the insurer’s members on their price transparency initiatives’ websites. Similarly, some officials and researchers told GAO that providers and insurers may be concerned with sharing negotiated rates due to the proprietary nature of the information and because of antitrust law concerns.”

In short, the report found, there are a multitude of reasons why people can’t find out prices, and very few ways in which they can.

Of the eight public and private price transparency initiatives the report looked at, price information varied greatly, from hospitals’ billed charges to prices based on contractually negotiated rates. “Lastly, GAO found that two of the selected initiatives–one publicly available with information only for a particular state and one available to members of a health insurance plan–are able to provide an estimate of a consumer’s complete cost,” the abstract says.

Here’s the GAO report, and here’s a Consumerist piece about it, and a Wall Street Journal piece.

We knew that this was a problem. We’re here to help.


Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...