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Healthcare price transparency – a good common goal

In my last blog post, I unwittingly evoked vehemence on the part of those pro/con a single payer model for healthcare. And so in this post I’d like to offer some more food for thought (while attempting to dodge the high velocity tomatoes):

First of all, Dr. Reece summarizes things nicely, suggesting that this debate is not entirely resolvable:

Incompatible Mindsets

• If your mindset is that government’s moral duty is to redistribute resources to protect the health of all, and that health is directly related to the extent of health system coverage, you think and receive information in a certain way. You generally attribute superior health statistics of other nations to universal coverage, even if these other nations have more homogeneous, smaller populations, and different cultures.

• If your mindset is that private markets provide the best care for most of the people most of the time, provide better access to high technologies, give more health care choices to citizens, distribute resources more efficiently and that the health of the people is more related to cultural behaviors and a nation’s heterogeneous population, you receive information in completely different way.

The Unending Argument

The power and efficiency of government vis-à-vis the power and efficiency of markets is a never-ending argument – an argument unlikely to change mindsets. To progressives, it’s a moral argument: to conservatives, it’s an exercise in reality. You can marshal persuasive arguments on both sides, without convincing either side who is right.

An economics blogger explains why extending Medicare benefits to all would not succeed:

The dirty little secret behind Medicare is that it works only because it does not cover every American. Part of the reason for this is that Medicare’s payment structure is designed to pay doctors and hospitals in such a way as to limit total spending, rather than to ensure they can break even. Clearly, they have to do better than break even to stay in business, and the people running Medicare know that. Medicare depends on the fact that there are lots of non-Medicare patients out there who (through their private insurance) can pay enough to keep the doctors and hospitals in business. This is called “cost shifting.”

Whether pro/con single payer system, I think that we nearly all can agree on one thing: price transparency is morally right. It’s hard to fix a system if you don’t really know where the money is coming from or going to.  I think it would be nice to have people on both sides of the debate work together for that common goal first. Would you agree?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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3 Responses to “Healthcare price transparency – a good common goal”

  1. sappleton says:

    My wife and I talk about this regularly. She is for a single/government provider system – taking the moral argument. I try to talk sense to her – and was trying to explain your train of thought here that I really like. I wish you would continue on an example of how price transparency would work? “Come see me, Dr. Appleton, regular checkups, $60.00. Ok, your son has tubes in his ears. If you agree to tubes in his ears, our clinic charges $1000 for anasthesia, $1200 for the actual surgery, and the surgery center rental will be $850.

    Do you get estimates? I mean – I am with you here, I just really don’t have real access to the healthcare system and what is actually possible. Currently it’s just a completely blind system where there really is no choice to make – you just have the procedure done at the best place your insurance is accepted and wait for the onslaught of bills and Insurance EOBs.

    Please continue how this could really work in your mind.

  2. sappleton says:

    Obviously I meant “your son has an ear infection and needs tubes in his ears…”

  3. ValJonesMD says:

    Thanks for your question, sappleton. You inspired me to continue the discussion in my next blog post!

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