Montana Legislative Committee Takes Up Health Price Information

Jan 17, 2018

A legislative committee on health care prices seems split on whether giving consumers more information about health care prices will make much difference.

Last year Montana's Legislature set up a committee to study transparency in health care pricing, concerned that consumers don't have enough information about what health care procedures cost to shop for the best deals. And that means there's little incentive for providers to offer low prices.

On Wednesday that committee heard from panelists including Todd Lovshin, an executive with PacificSource health insurance.

"We have lots of body of work that if you make a price transparent, and say, 'hey, it's a $100 service here, or a $200 service here;' that it doesn't really impact a member's choice of where they're going," Lovshin says.

State Senator Al Olszewski, a Republican member of the committee who's also an orthopedic surgeon, said part of the reason for that might be because a majority of Montanans get their health coverage from government programs like Medicare or Medicaid.

"A common thread is, is when I have a patient that doesn't pay for his or her own premiums, it's, 'I don't care what it costs, I want it now.' "

Olszewski and fellow committee member Ed Buttrey, a Republican state senator from Great Falls advocated for more effectively using market incentives to get health care consumers to change their behavior and seek lower priced care.

"And we all go through this," Buttrey says. "If you've got a deductible to pay, you probably ... care a little bit about how much it's going to cost. I'm just not ready to give up saying that we can't find a way to incentivize people to make good decisions regarding competition between providers and insurers and that they can make some better choices."

The legislative committee didn't just look at price transparency today. They also heard about efforts by hospitals, doctors and insurance companies to reform payment systems, to reward high quality, efficient care, instead of simply paying for each individual visit or procedure. The committee is supposed to write up the findings of their studies this May, for consideration by the 2019 Montana Legislature.

This report was funded in part by a grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation.