Trump Administration Moves To Make Health Care Costs More Transparent

Shopping around for the best deal on a medical X-ray or a new knee? The Trump administration has a plan for that.

On Monday, it proposed new rules that would provide consumers far more detail about the actual prices hospitals charge insurers. It comes amid growing calls from consumer advocates, who argue transparency can help tackle rising health care costs. But the plan also has the potential to overwhelm patients with data.

Under the proposal, hospitals would be required to post the prices they negotiate with every insurer for just about every service, drug and supply they provide to patients, starting Jan. 1.

The move follows an executive order issued by the president in June. It immediately drew sharp opposition from hospitals and insurers, who made it clear they plan to fight the proposal — all the way to court if necessary.

Final rules might differ from the proposal — and the courts will be asked to weigh in. But the move could help lift the secrecy that has long surrounded what patients, employers and insurers pay for medical services.

The proposal, however, raises at least three questions:

Will Consumers Use It? Some consumers will take advantage of price information, although maybe not many, said experts who have studied patient behavior.

Will It Lower Prices? The short answer is maybe. But no one knows for sure.

Will It Become Law? Again, the answer is maybe. The proposal could be modified after the administration reviews public comments, due Sept. 27. After it’s finalized, there may well be a legal battle.

Hospitals and insurers didn’t wait to take the first shots. Shortly after the proposed rule was released late Monday, their trade organizations released sharply critical statements. They’ve long opposed efforts to reveal their negotiated prices, which they say are trade secrets.