Say you want to find the best hospital in Wyoming to deliver your baby.
You could visit the Wyoming Hospital Association’s pricing website, which lists how much different medical facilities charge for a delivery. But the site lacks performance measures like safety ratings or patient satisfaction surveys.
There are other websites that offer such information. The federal government runs one; a national nonprofit group publishes another. Both, however, lack price data. As a result, consumers might have to visit three websites before they’ll get a full picture of a hospital’s performance.
A bill now being developed by a state legislative committee could change that. The legislation would task the Department of Health with creating a website that would offer consumers performance and price information for Wyoming hospitals.
The bill is designed to bring more transparency to the health care system, said Rep. Elaine Harvey, the Republican chairwoman of the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. It would provide “the opportunity for consumers to go in eyes wide open and know what they are going to be getting,” she said at committee meeting last week in Casper.
Proponents of health care transparency say informed consumers will spur more competition among hospitals which, in turn, would help to control escalating costs.
The Wyoming Business Coalition on Health has been a strong advocate for giving people tools to comparison shop for medical care. Two years ago, the groups lobbied Wyoming hospitals to participate in a performance survey conducted by the nonprofit Leapfrog Group. Eleven of the state’s 27 acute care hospitals are currently listed on the Leapfrog website.
Informed consumers, who look for value, will improve the health care system, said Anne Ladd, the group’s chief executive officer. They’ll reward institutions that
promote efficiency and patient safety.
“You need a fully informed consumer to make a market work,” she said. “And the closer we can get to that in health care, the better off we can be.”
It’s important that consumers have more than just cost information, Ladd said. That’s because consumers tend to equate higher prices with quality, even though that isn’t the case in health care.
“If you just put pricing information, you will end up just running up cost,” she said.
While some lawmakers see value in transparency, they question whether crafting new legislation is the right approach. Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, wondered if the Wyoming Hospital Association could add a quality component to its price comparisons without being compelled to by the state.
“I hate to see us be the heavy hand of government,” he said during the committee meeting.
The hospital association would resist an attempt to force hospitals to participate, said Dan Perdue, the group’s president. Wyoming hospitals already report performance data to the federal government, he noted. Some are also participating in the Leapfrog survey.
But Perdue said he was open to including performance information on the group’s website, preferably by using data that’s already being collected.
“We are always looking to improve that site,” he said.
The committee chose to postpone a decision on the bill until next month to give the association time to discuss whether it might be willing to expand its website or encourage more participation in the Leapfrog survey.
“If you’ll do it, we won’t have to,” Harvey told Perdue. “But we have got to find a way to drive down costs. And it doesn’t matter what sector of the population you are looking at, competition is a good thing.”