Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of the Medical Pricing Disclosure Bill proposed by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, has raked up quite a controversy. Ostensibly, the legislation would have made it mandatory for physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers to post prices for frequently provided services. This would have allowed people to comparison shop and manage their healthcare needs and costs. They would have been able to estimate the cost of relevant medical procedures even before reaching the doctor’s waiting room. Barto even called the legislation a ‘cost-containment measure’ for uninsured patients who pay all or part of their medical bills.

While proclaiming that she is not against the ‘transparency’ advantage in the bill Arizona’s governor has put forward several reasons for her veto. Brewer says she is basically about the practical and legal difficulties involved in its implementation:

  • When the bill is approved, it will cover not only conventional hospitals but also the facilities run by Veterans Administration, tribal clinics, military hospitals, Indian Health Services and even the Arizona State Hospital. As these facilities don’t serve the general public, they need to be excluded from the provisions of the bill.
  • There are several ambiguous terms and definitions in the bill, which could lead to conflict between state and federal law and possibly, unnecessary litigation.
  • This legislation could restrict the authoritative abilities of the Arizona Medical Board with regard to investigating complaints about excessive fees, billing abuses, and physician disciplining.

Matthew Benson, the governor’s press aide has highlighted another concern. He points out that rather than one flat rate for all their procedures, hospitals charges would differ depending on whether the patient is responsible for the bill, is a Medicaid beneficiary, or has discount-based coverage. It is pointed out that medical billing transparency is not as simple as it sounds.

The comforting fact about this controversy is that Brewer is not against medical pricing transparency. In a free market economy, transparent pricing is necessary for any product or service. In healthcare, it can improve competitiveness and ensure that patients are not overcharged for a particular service.

Knowing the actual cost of a medical service or device is particularly useful for those without insurance. Even if you do have insurance, your policy may not cover a particular procedure. In that case, transparent pricing helps you find the least expensive service quickly. Medical pricing disclosure therefore can keep pricing competitive and bring down healthcare costs in the country.