Consumers incorporate price information when making most purchasing decisions. While health care services have numerous unique characteristics that make pricing complex and non-uniform across payers, both consumers and providers can benefit from greater price transparency. Knowing the estimated cost and quality of services in advance of receiving care can help patients make informed purchasing decisions, plan for future financial obligations and lessen the burden of unexpected medical bills. Price transparency also can lead to improved quality and efficiency as providers benchmark and improve their performance against peers and national averages. To realize these potential benefits, policymakers and the public increasingly are calling for greater access to information. Historically, limited access to price information has been felt most acutely by uninsured patients, who face greater exposure to health care expenses. However, consumers increasingly are enrolling in plans with higher levels of deductibles and coinsurance, which require more accurate estimates of out-of-pocket costs. In fact, recent media and policy discussions have illustrated that all patients--not just the uninsured or those with higher deductibles--benefit from timely pricing estimates from insurers and health care providers. Simultaneously, a growing number of price transparency initiatives are emerging at the federal and state levels, and among hospitals, plans and commercial vendors of transparency tools. These public and private resources provide varying levels of detail on price and quality information. They also have varying levels of utility in supporting consumer decision-making. As efforts to improve price transparency evolve, stakeholders will need to address consumers' increased needs for information and guard against any potential unintended consequences.
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