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Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.),
Pallone

Transparency measures may wait


By Matthew DoBias
Posted: May 6, 2010 - 6:00 pm ET
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The chairman of a key congressional health panel said he would not commit to advancing legislation that requires providers, payers and vendors to publicly disclose the cost of their services.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, said today's hearing on a trio of bills was a critical first step, but declined to say if the bills would clear any more hurdles this year.

“We also would like to compare the three bills and see what kind of support there is,” Pallone said. When asked if the legislation could move forward, he said, “it's a possibility, but no decisions have been made.”

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One bill, introduced by Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.), also a physician, requires hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacies and a range of manufacturers and vendors to openly disclose prices. Failure to do so would result in a financial penalty to be determined by HHS.

Kagen called the current healthcare system “upside down,” allowing for those with no insurance at all to get charged the entirety of a healthcare bill while those with some level of coverage get to pay a negotiated lower rate.

“Some will argue that showing everyone all of the prices is too complex, for there are tens of thousands of prices at any given hospital,” Kagen said. “But today's technology allows all of us to go online on the Internet and search for items to purchase and find exactly what we want to buy within milliseconds.”

Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the committee's senior Republican, but backed by some Democrats, requires public and private health plans to make known what services they cover, any restrictions in that coverage and the cost-sharing requirements that are also involved. Two years out, it would require hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to publicly disclose the charges for services they typically perform.

A third bill requires a higher level of transparency in the Medicaid program.

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