Our Opinion: Medical field should offer upfront pricing

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You check into a hotel. The clerk tells you the price for a nonsmoking room with a king-size bed.

You look into buying a TV set. Signs beneath TV sets on a shelf or along the wall tell you what the prices are.

You need to get an alignment, brake job, muffler replacement or just about any work done on your car, the shop calls you to let you know an estimated price before its mechanics begin.

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You need to get an appendectomy, wear a cast for a broken bone, treat a fungal toenail, remove an eye cataract, have a colonoscopy, birth a baby, repair a knee or any other medical procedure, no one can tell you what to expect without going through a pricing structure so difficult that it takes days or weeks to inform the customer of the prices.

And despite the Affordable Care Act and the widespread discussions of what was wrong with American health care in the months before it was passed — when many Americans raised the problem of not being able to budget their medical expenses — the same problem still exists.

Many families cannot afford health care because they have been burned fiscally and burdened financially by unexpected costs. The expenses clearly could be considered hidden costs, as patients are making financial decisions on the spot without knowing the cost.

Kid breaks a bone in an unusual location. Doctors ask the mother if she wants the boy to stay overnight. She consents because, hey, she’s a concerned mother. The next week she gets a big bill that she could have avoided if she knew the pricing upfront, like a TV set, a hotel room or with automobile repair.

We doubt most patients have any inkling whatsoever that a helicopter flight will cost them $15,000 and probably won’t be covered very well by insurance, if at all.

The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. There is no undoing that. But it is time for America to begin talks on the next wave of health care changes, and we hope that any new law would be aimed not so much at the system as a whole but at aiding consumers to make smart choices. Legislation could require health providers and insurance companies to work together more smoothly to provide upfront prices. This costs this. That costs that.

It seems rather un-American — the U.S. is a land of capitalism — to not provide consumers with the prices before they buy goods and services.