Firm News

Communicating Price Transparency

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act brought health care policy into the national spotlight, price transparency to the forefront of public conversation and health care costs into the hands of the consumer. With the click of a button, consumers can now review reimbursement data and quality metrics. And, a bulk of the new insurance products created under the ACA relies on consumers to absorb a larger proportion of their health care costs – meaning patients are more cost-conscious than ever.

Today, transparency in health care is a patchwork of data points offered with little context, which can be a recipe for misunderstandings, inaccurate media coverage and poor policy. High-profile news articles and data releases over the last few years have placed those data points squarely under a microscope, and yet our industry’s response has been, at best, weak.

The wave of calls for health care price transparency is not one that hospitals can simply ride out. If the hospital community doesn’t tell its story, consumers, journalists and government officials will fill in the blanks on their own. In fact, they already have. From new legislative initiatives to media reports, public perception is clear: Health care costs are too high, and hospitals are to blame.

Hospitals have an opportunity to shape the conversation on transparency:

  • Know yourself. How expensive is your care compared to the competition? Are you the low- or high-cost provider in town? How can you talk about that? Are you able to break down a sample bill or outline how your billing process works?
  • Know the sources. Look at the resources that consumers, reporters and legislators have available at their fingertips. Can you translate that data and put it in context?
  • Tell a story. Health care costs are highly complex. So, how do you tell the story of why your care costs what it does? For example, are your costs high to cover those who can’t afford to pay at all? What percentage of each bill goes to direct patient care or nursing? Put a human face – not a building or corporate interests – on your story.
  • Be a part of the solution, not the problem. The industry is a mess, and that’s no secret. Don’t pretend health care doesn’t appear expensive; instead, explain the “value of value,” and what you’re doing about it. Are you partnering with insurance companies on managed care plans? Are you having discussions with policymakers in Washington, D.C.? Are you transforming your organization to reflect a consumer-driven future? Do you have a different approach?
  • Build your village. Have open conversations with your constituents, both internally and externally. Do they understand the complexities of health care prices, or how your hospital is addressing transparency? Adding their voices to the larger public discussion can amplify your message.
  • Have a plan. Don’t wait until a reporter calls to create a plan to address price transparency. When preparing to talk about this issue, know what your key messages are and who will be the messenger. The more the message is personalized, the more human the organization will feel.

As anyone who has had an experience with the health care system already knows, hospital bills often don’t
make common sense. Instead of addressing a single bill or procedure cost, messages about health care costs and transparency must address a full picture of the complex health care reimbursement environment, which is largely the result of heavy federal, state and local regulation, as well as growing financial pressures.

Hospitals are only one part of a larger health care system for which a more rational financial system needs to be created. The entire industry must not only take a proactive stance in addressing price transparency, but also in advocating for patients, the value the industry brings and the direction in which it needs to go.


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