“What You Don’t Know, Can’t Can Hurt You”: Empowering Patients through Information

Post written by CHC Member Chinwe Ntamere

Chinwe serves with the American Cancer Society as a Health Educator

As part of recent government efforts to make health care coverage more affordable, patients will not only have greater access to health care services, but also health care information. One of the major criticisms of the American health care system is the lack of transparency in respect to cost of services. Although the U.S. has a free market based healthcare system, until recently, health care consumers lacked access to information to compare costs of services.


To address this problem, the government has released the average inpatient and outpatient cost of several common healthcare procedures billed to Medicare by hospitals in over 300 metropolitan areas. The hope is that with this information, health consumers will begin to compare costs, thereby driving future health care costs down (1) (2). Although this database was only released last month, stark price differences between hospitals have been identified. For example, an article published by the Huffington Post compared the cost of treating Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease at the Bayonne Hospital Center in New Jersey and the cost of treatment at the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center located  in Bronx, N.Y. While these two hospitals are located less than 30 miles apart, the Bayonne Hospital center was charging an average of $99,690, and the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center was only charging $7,044 for the same procedure (2).


The potential impact of this information is huge, especially for uninsured patients. Uninsured patients typically pay the higher listed hospital prices whereas insured patients often have their hospital costs negotiated on their behalf. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that recent changes created by health care reform would eventually cover 32 million more Americans, but that would still leave 23 million uninsured by 2019 (3). While many will remain uninsured due to the fact that they are undocumented immigrants, some will remain uninsured even though they are eligible either because they are unaware of their eligibility, they cannot find an affordable premium, or they choose not to enroll. 


It is clear that greater access to health information is needed to provide affordable care. As a Health Educator and Navigator with the American Cancer Society’s Colon Cancer Initiative, I have come to understand the importance of accessible information in obtaining affordable and effective care. Multiple times during my service, I have encounter patients who were unable to access needed health services in their community because the lacked access to information. This gap in information is costly both in dollars and health outcomes. This newly released database can greatly assist these remaining uninsured individuals in finding affordable care, especially if the price information is linked to information about the quality of care of each hospital. In an era of open source platforms, smartphones, apps, and information mapping, there is a huge potential for the development of crowd-sourced and interactive tools to empower some of these uninsured patients with the information that will assist them in finding affordable care.


Links to Health Care Price listings:
• National Health Prices:
o In-patient: https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Tren...
o Out-patient: https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Tren...
• Stroger Cook County Hospital Prices:
http://www.cookcountyhhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/CCHHS-Service-Co...


Citations
1. https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Tren...
2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/hospital-prices-cost-difference...
3. http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/stories/2010/march/24/some-will-remain-u...
4. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Publications/Fund-Reports/2013/Apr/Insur...