Medicare head asks Twitter to help enforce price transparency policy

Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, called on Twitter a few days ago to help her enforce a new rule on health price transparency.

The rule requires hospitals to post their list prices online. It went into effect on Jan. 1, and there was scant information about how it was to be done and how it would be enforced. Since these are only list prices, and not actual prices, the significance of the move is quite small. I wrote about it in this blog post and this blog post, expressing skepticism.

i was quoted on the topic by The New York Times, the Associated Press and others, questioning the value of this policy. You can see some of them on our press page.

About two weeks after the policy went into effect, Verma tweeted: “Price transparency issues are complex, which is why @CMSGov put out RFIs last year asking about defining standard charges, what types of information patients really need, & what enforcement mechanisms will be most effective. Now, we want to hear from you, #Twitter.”

It may be no surprise in this era of government by Twitter that Verma would make such an ask. But it does suggest that any enforcement of how hospitals are observing the policy might actually be driven by Twitter. It also came as no particular surprise that the reaction was not especially positive.

Reaction was pretty swift.

“#PriceTransparency isn’t a problem, it’s the healthcare bill that prevents access, especially true for chronic patients like me. If hospital a charges $10k, but hospital B only charges $9k it doesn’t matter if I only have $1k. #wherestheprice” was the response from a Twitter user named Alan Brewington from Idaho. “It is scary how little this helps patients like me. I need neck surgery. I’m not going to spend hours learning about CPT codes so I can find a price. I’m going up spend my resources on developing a relationship with my surgeon. #wherestheprice”

Experian Health, part of the giant credit company, used the occasion to find customers for its price estimate service: “More Personalized patient estimates create better experience than #CMSGov requirements. See how we can help: #PriceTransparency #WheresThePrice #EmpoweringPatients #HealthIT”

A couple of people seemed to be playing, but not many: