When you hear the word “monopoly,” does it fill you with a warm and fuzzy feeling? (Unless you’re Hasbro, you really should say no, unless you’re a cyborg.)
Healthcare is a monopoly. We can’t DIY cancer treatment, or surgically repair a broken hip for ourselves, so we have to go to the medical-industrial complex to regain our health if we wander into the weeds, health-wise. We also have deep difficulty accessing pricing information. I’ve talked about that here and in even more depth on the Cancer for Christmas blog over the last few years. Maybe not a monopoly in the financial-reg sense of the word, but it sure is mighty like a game of Monopoly.
This “chaos behind a veil of secrecy” (all credit for that phrase belongs to healthcare economist Uwe Reinhart) has created the impression in healthcare customers that there’s no way to tell what something will cost before you buy it. You checks the box and takes yer chances. No Get Out of the Hospital Free cards. No pass-the-admissions-counter-collect-$200 option. That’s a rotten way to run a railroad (one of the original monopoly industries in US history), and an even worse way to run a hospital.
Dan Munro wrote about this, and the star-chamber cabal that actually sets the prices in healthcare, the RUC, on Forbes.com yesterday. I’ve talked about the RUC myself. And the search for price transparency, which seemed such an outlier activity just a couple of years ago, is now popping up in the Well blog on the New York Times site, as well as on Reuters. The Reuters piece has the addition bonus of quotes from my buddy Jeanne Pinder, founder of ClearHealthCosts.com. (Yesterday was a big day in medical price transparency.)
This is the central reason I registered the hashtag #howmuchisthat with Symplur, the healthcare hashtag registry. We all have to start demanding that prices be visible, and that the RUC stop cabal-ing around with our lives and our wallets. As more and more people are finding themselves with high-deductible health insurance, asking how much things cost before you make a healthcare decision will become the norm. If a healthcare provider can’t answer that question, s/he will find that s/he’s seeing the patient panel sinking fast, along with practice revenue.
Get with it, medicine. Remake your image, and your brand, to be clear as glass and user-friendly. Outcome metrics along with pricing would be really nice, too.