Patients in the US healthcare system are consumers, but in no other sector in the economy, or perhaps anywhere else in the world, are consumers less aware of the charges for the services they consume. Efforts are underway by President Obama to make these charges more transparent, but a recent article in the New York Times shows the impact of this lack of transparency at a personal level. A patient was “surprised” by a bill for $117,000.00 from a surgeon he never met.
This situation is not exceptional. It evolved through the convoluted relationships among health insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors, and recent attempts to reign in the rising cost of healthcare. The competitive relationships between and among these providers is anything but “healthy.” With each of these actors trying to maximize their profits in a declining market, the losers are the US consumers who are paying progressively more out of pocket for healthcare. And since the US spends more than twice as much as the next country on the “spend to the end” list, the dollar amounts for many consumers are frightening.
Historically, consumers have not been persuaded by high prices to seek care outside of the US; certainly not to the degree that many foreign countries and providers in these destinations had hoped as shown in an article in The Economist. With more news stories about gouging like this one, the pressure will first be upon the insurance companies, hospitals and doctors to offer more information to their consumers and the public. Failure to draw back the curtain will certainly push more consumers to look farther for care.