Publishing detailed, comprehensive health care price data on the Web could save some patients money but cause other patients to pay more for care.
Sheila Campbell, an analyst at the Congressional Budget Office discuss that possibility in a brief on the implications of efforts to increase the transparency of health care and prescription drug prices.
Wider access to price data could give help to individuals who shop for low-priced care, and that information could be especially helpful to people who will be paying for care out of their own pockets, including people with high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts, Campbell writes.
Campbell cites evidence from one study, conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, that indicated that individuals were most likely to use price information when initially seeking care for a medical condition.
“Once they went to a doctor, subsequent spending per person was similar in the different cost-sharing arrangements,” Campbell writes.
But Campbell warns that availability of price information could lead some doctors and hospitals to price medical care less aggressively.
Hospitals would be in an especially strong position to use price information to increase prices, Campbell writes.
“The markets for physicians’ services are often far less concentrated than hospital markets, reducing the likelihood that greater transparency would lead to higher prices,” Campbell writes.
Pressure from insurers, consumers and regulators might keep providers from using price data to increase the cost of care, but providers might end up charging similar rates for similar services, eliminating the bargains available to careful health care shoppers today, Campbell writes.