One of the many trends in healthcare today is a move toward making specific quality and pricing information available to the public.
“When you’re buying a car, you can easily compare quality, features, and prices to make an educated guess,” points out Eric Siegal, MD, regional medical director, Cogent Healthcare, Madison, Wis., and chair of SHM’s Public Policy Committee. “In contrast, healthcare is completely opaque. People choose a doctor or a hospital—sometimes for a surgery that’s life threatening—by word of mouth or [based on] proximity. How do you make it possible to choose based on quality of care and on price?”
Known as healthcare transparency, this trend is driven by multiple sources. “The [CMS] Hospital Compare initiative was a first step in this, as were the Leapfrog initiative and the IHI [Institute for Health Improvement] Collaborative,” says Dr. Siegal. “In fact, the government is a little late to the game, but they’re quickly closing the gap.”
Mandate from the President
On August 22, 2006, President George W. Bush signed an executive order requiring key federal agencies to collect information about the quality and cost of the healthcare they provide and to share that data with each another—and with beneficiaries. Agencies included in the order are the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
The executive order directs these four agencies to work with the private sector and other government agencies to develop programs to measure quality of care. They were required by Jan. 1, 2007, to identify practices that promote high quality care and to compile information on the prices they pay for common services available to their members. Ultimately, the executive order calls for combining that data in a comprehensive source on providers’ quality and prices; this information will then be available to consumers.
President Bush has said that his order sends a message to healthcare providers that “in order to do business with the federal government, you’ve got to show us your prices.” The new requirements for transparency will affect healthcare providers across the country because treating about one-quarter of Americans covered by health insurance entails “doing business with the federal government.” That one-quarter includes Medicare beneficiaries, health insurance beneficiaries at the DoD and the VA, and federal employees. (The order clearly states that the directive does not apply to state-administered or -funded programs.)