Benefits

Task Force: Health Plans Key to Cost, Quality

By Rita Pyrillis

Jun. 2, 2014

When it comes to price transparency, health benefit plans should lead the way in helping consumers make more informed health care decisions. Employers can play an important role, too, according to a recent report by a task force composed of providers, insurers, employers, consumers and physicians.

Led by the Healthcare Financial Management Association, or HFMA, the task force released guidelines and recommendations on how hospitals, physicians and health plans would share price, quality and safety information with consumers to help make decisions. It also recommended that employers provide access to price transparency online tools that offer information on cost and quality.

“We believe that it will take everyone — providers, insurers, employers and government — working together to provide patients with the information they need,” said Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, in a written statement. “This includes helping patients understand their hospital bills by finding better ways to explain them in user-friendly terms.”

Group members recommended that health plans should be the primary source of price information and urged them to use easy-to-understand formats. It also recommended that hospitals should serve as the central resource for uninsured and out-of-network patients.

A growing number of employers are using Web-based tools such as Castlight Health and Healthcare Bluebook that provide information on price and other measures. And some health plans like UnitedHealthcare have developed their own cost calculators.

“It’s entirely reasonable for consumers to expect better access to price information,” said Joseph Fifer, president and CEO of the HFMA, in a written statement. “We are calling on all health care stakeholders to acknowledge that and to deliver the clear, reliable price information consumers are looking for. By achieving consensus about the roles all stakeholders should play, we have taken a giant step in the right direction.”

Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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