The Building Blocks for Value

03 Jan 2013

If you’re in the market for a new car, it’s easy to find out if, say, a Toyota costs more than a comparable Chrysler. In fact, a small amount of research can help a consumer compare prices on just about any good or service in America.

The exception: health care. If you need a hip replacement, diabetes treatment, or heart surgery, and you want to know how much you will have to pay, you’re likely out of luck. Health care costs in America are such a mystery that often even doctors and most people who work in hospitals or clinics don’t know what they’re charging.
We do know that health care is more expensive in the United States than in any other nation in the world. U.S. per capita health expenditures are far greater than those of other industrialized nations. Americans consistently indicate in polls that they are happy with the care they receive, but think it is too expensive.

While consumers are increasingly being asked to compare care providers based on price, they haven’t been given the tools to do so. Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s signature effort to lift the quality of care in America, has begun to tackle these problems. AF4Q communities are at the beginning of the process of reporting cost data, convening stakeholders (hospitals and physicians, health plans, employers, consumers) to find solutions.

Health care pricing is, as one analysis finds, “complex and opaque.” Think of it this way: If you were to call up your local hospital and say, “I need a procedure done, how much will it cost?” you won’t get a straight answer. Nobody knows what you’ll get charged until after the procedure is over.
While the challenges are great, they are not insurmountable. Communities should have the conversation about cost, work hard to get the technical aspects of data collection and reporting right, and move forward with currently available metrics and data. Cost information is too important not to share with the public.

Read the Lessons Learned Piece here.