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Potential Threat To Radiologists: Price Lists

December 10, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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If you think Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates threaten the financial structure of health care imaging, just wait. One simple requirement, already proposed in some states and on the federal level, could have the same effect on imaging that Southwest Airlines has had on the airline industry.

That requirement: forcing providers to post prices for imaging procedures.

It would change imaging from a sophisticated blend of science and art into a commodity—something that’s basically the same anywhere you get it, with the only difference being price. If one clinic charges $5,000 for an MRI and another clinic charges $3,000, guess which one will thrive and which will have to cut prices or close? The more expensive clinic may have better scanners and better radiologists, but good luck getting consumers to understand—let alone pay for—that difference in quality.

Airlines used to make their money on first-class passengers and coach passengers who bought unrestricted full-fare tickets. Then Southwest Airlines and other discount carriers forced lower fares across the board. All passengers received basically the same service: getting from one place to another. Why pay lots more money just to make the trip slightly more comfortable?

Southwest makes money. The older “legacy” carriers keep bouncing in and out of bankruptcy.

Pressure to force health care providers to disclose what they charge for specific procedures has been building. Various state laws have pushed transparency, and the Health Care Price Transparency Promotion Act of 2012 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in May.

It’s currently stuck in committee and not likely to get unstuck. But agitation for price transparency won’t go away. And imaging, a relatively straightforward procedure for which costs can be accurately estimated in advance, is a big, fat target.

On Sunday, reporter Martha Bebinger posted on Kaiser Health News about her frustrating, time-consuming, and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to find out in advance from three different providers how much a doctor-recommended MRI would cost. She wrote:

We have the health care industry telling us to shop around, to be smart consumers, to make wise choices, and yet it’s really difficult to do that, because we don’t understand how hospitals set prices, and it can take hours to find a price.

That’s a lament that appeals both to consumer-protecting liberals and free-market conservatives. And it’s a financial threat to radiologists.

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One Response to “Potential Threat To Radiologists: Price Lists”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » Web Site Allows Radiology Shopping, Booking on December 18th, 2012 at 10:08 am

    […] services has proven popular with providers and is catching on with consumers. Does that mean my dire speculation last week about the potential perils of price transparency for imaging was all […]