Americans just won a huge victory and took a giant step toward being able to know and control their health-care costs and spending. The triumph came as a federal appeals court unanimously upheld a game-changing rule that compels hospitals to show their real and previously hidden prices in a way we can all access and understand.
Patients now have the right to know the actual price of their hospital care before they get it. The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia means that hospitals must comply with the price transparency rule that the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services issued in November 2019, and that hospital groups have been fighting ever since.
The American Hospital Association and other hospital groups joined in suing the government, arguing that the rule violated their first amendment rights and would pose an undue administrative burden on hospitals. The hospitals first lost their case in the district court, and again, this week, in the appeals court.
Thankfully, the clear-eyed panel of judges didn’t buy their arguments. Instead, Judge David Tatel, who wrote the opinion for the court, said this of hospitals’ pricing: “In short, their charges look nothing like hotel room rates or car prices. Rather, hospitals charge different amounts for the same item or service depending on who is paying.”
That is about to stop. We applaud these judges who put Americans first. This decision is pro-consumer, pro-competition and pro health. No longer will Americans have to put off getting needed medical care for fear of financial ruin. The decision is also a win for workers, employers, taxpayers, who all pay more every year for health care even if they never go to the doctor. The tidal change in health care finally puts consumers in charge, and will bring prices of care and coverage down.
The change delivers on a broadly bipartisan effort that 90 percent of Americans want. The push for health-care price transparency began with the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration bolstered the effort by issuing an executive order then a transparency rule, which the appellate court judges, all Democratic appointees, have upheld.
Further cementing our newly won right, one year from now, on Jan. 1, 2022, a companion rule is set to take effect that will compel insurance companies to make their secret negotiated rates available and easily accessible as well. Today’s decision should warn insurance companies that suing to shut down this rule and block Americans’ right to know prices will be a waste of time.
The close of 2020 marks the end of a dark, abusive period where consumers have been hostage to hospitals and insurers who negotiate behind closed doors leaving vulnerable patients in the dark, forced to pay prices they could not know ahead of time. Not anymore. The decision is a clarion call to hospitals and insurers that the days of keeping patients and prices in the dark are over. Americans are the victors.
Cynthia Fisher is the founder and chairman for Patient Rights Advocate.