From the Editor by David Staats: A light in the darkness of health costs

dstaats@idahostatesman.comMay 14, 2013 

Staats, David

David Staats

SHAWN RAECKE — Shawn Raecke/ Idaho Statesman Buy Photo

Most of us understand little about what our health care actually costs and what it should cost. The federal government's release May 8 of the costs of 100 classes of medical procedures at U.S. hospitals was a flashlight in the cave.

Journalists around the country jumped on the data. Our Audrey Dutton found the same thing reporters elsewhere did: Costs for similar procedures in our community often vary greatly. There are disparities even within any single Boise-based hospital system named for a saint.

Greater price transparency is one step toward economically healthier health care markets. But there's a long way to go. Steven Brill, who wrote "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," for Time Magazine in March, says the government should publish prices for outpatient procedures and diagnostic tests at clinics.

Brill says an even bigger step would be disclosure of what insurance companies pay to hospitals. Suppose you have Aetna insurance and I have United Healthcare, and we each pay 20 percent co-insurance. You'd think our bills for a procedure would be the same, right? Not necessarily. One insurer may negotiate a better deal than another.

This edition of BI offers two other views on health care costs. St. Luke's CEO David Pate offers three ideas for controlling costs. Boise State graduate student Matt Kaiserman argues that insurers lack power to control costs. Their columns on page 6 are part of this month's business-of-health section.



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