Patients Deserve the Right to Shop

By Kelly McCutchen and Josh Archambault

Georgia families face some of the biggest increases in health care premiums in the country this year. For many families, health care is rapidly becoming unaffordable – a necessity that is becoming a luxury. Candidates running for Governor and the Legislature would be wise to take note of other states’ successes in granting patients the right to shop for health care to lower health care costs.

Data show that the primary reason premiums are going up is the escalating costs of treatments and procedures. Consumers’ deductibles and copays are going up, too. In other words, patients are paying more but getting less. At a time when the internet is making more and more information available online – just think of Yelp or Angie’s List – consumers face real obstacles in knowing ahead of time how much a procedure will cost and how much they will have to pay from their own pockets.

Yet, which provider you visit varies the price by thousands of dollars, even when there’s no difference in the quality. There’s no good reason for this lack of transparency; this black box only raises health care costs for everyone.

As Georgia seeks relief, leaders must look beyond the failed approaches from Washington and look instead toward innovative solutions from other states. In 2017, Maine unanimously passed a bipartisan health care bill that provides a solution to high and unpredictable health care costs: “Right to Shop.”

Right to Shop lowers health care costs by empowering consumers to choose among health care providers, and rewards them financially (i.e. cash, a gift card or reductions in what a patient has to pay) for making smart choices that save money without affecting the quality of their care. 

Right to Shop works because it puts the patient first. It’s why Maine’s bill passed with unanimous bipartisan support, quite a feat in today’s partisan political climate, especially when it comes to health care.

In addition, Right to Shop opens the door to more options for patients: They have the right to pick any qualified health care provider out-of-network as well, as long as they are a good value.

Consumers both need and desire this type of information about health care pricing. A recent poll for the Foundation for Government Accountability found that 82 percent of Americans want to know the price of non-emergency treatments in advance, and 72 percent want to be able to choose lower-cost out-of-network providers. 

There are real savings at stake for a family. For instance, an infusion treatment for a chronically ill patient might cost $28,000 from one provider but half that at another just a couple miles away.  The same is true of thousands of other non-emergency services.

Spending on health care in Georgia is roughly $96 billion a year. It is estimated that $16 billion of that is overspending on shoppable services. Pure waste.

ObamaCare still hasn’t been repealed. In the meantime, Georgia can make real progress in health care with Right to Shop, saving patients money while ensuring they receive high-quality care. Georgia’s leaders would be wise to pursue reform this year that makes the health care system more affordable and better for everyone in the state.

Kelly McCutchen is a Senior Fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Josh Archambault a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability.  The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (February 16, 2018). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the authors and their affiliations are cited.   

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