Mar. 25—Despite a growing number of states with laws requiring healthcare price transparency, all but a handful failed to get the information to consumers in any usable format, according to an annual price transparency report from two consumer advocacy groups.

States' healthcare price transparency efforts received lower grades in the second annual Report Card on State Transparency Laws issued by the Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR) and Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute (HCI3) than they earned last year. In the report released March 25, 45 states' healthcare price transparency efforts were graded as failing, while Maine and Massachusetts received "B" grades and Colorado, Virginia, and Vermont each earned "C" grades.

Only 29 states received failing grades last year.

Part of the worsening performance was due to the report's scope expanding beyond recently enacted laws and elimination of a grading "curve" where performance was judged on states’ relative performance to each other. Other grade changes were due to state performance. For instance, New Hampshire fell from an "A" to an "F" because the consumer website required by state law to list healthcare prices "is inoperative and may remain so for an extended period."

The report found that despite "robust price transparency laws and regulations on the books, requiring them to create a publicly available website," the price information on many states' websites remains inaccessible because the websites are either poorly designed or functioning inadequately. For instance, North Carolina enacted high-profile legislation n 2013 requiring online posting of hospital price information, but the state received failing grades for not placing the information online.

"It's our goal that the report card will inform advocates, lawmakers, and policy experts about today's best practices or what constitutes a top grade and, over time, generate improvements in public policies and consumer websites across the nation," Francois de Brantes, executive director of HCI3, said in a release.

Voluntary Failure

The report did not credit states for "voluntary price transparency websites" operated by hospital associations or other non-governmental entities on a voluntary basis because "if they are not legislated they can be short-lived, dependent on the good will and resources of the organization that hosts them."

The report separately graded voluntary price transparency websites, but graded as failing 15 hospital association-operated healthcare price websites. A better-performing voluntary website was hosted by Minnesota Community Measurements, which offered both quality data and amounts paid for the majority of the state's clinics.

One of the keys to states receiving overall good grades was whether residents had access to an all-payer claims database, which are a "superior source of price information for consumers because they contain data on what was actually paid for all services and procedures from a broad group of payers," according to the report.

"The challenge hasn't lessened and yet too few states have risen to take it on and create the important building blocks of transparency," the report stated.

Rich Daly is a senior writer/editor in HFMA's Washington, D.C., office. Follow Rich on Twitter @rdalyhealthcare.


Publication Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014