Montana Lawmakers Continue Work On Health Care Cost Transparency

Sep 13, 2017
Originally published on September 12, 2017 5:37 pm

State lawmakers want to know more about why the cost of health care keeps rising, and make it easier for Montanans to know the prices for health care procedures up front. The state Legislature says that’s a top priority ahead of the next legislative session.

A group lawmakers, healthcare and insurance representatives charged with studying health care costs and price transparency met for the first time at the capitol Tuesday.

The Health Care Price Transparency Subcommittee Tuesday started defining its work for the next year. The subcommittee is lead by two-term Billings Representative Kathy Kelker, a Democrat who sponsored the proposal to study the factors that contribute to health care costs.

"The cost of health care keeping going up and up and up. The cost of private insurance has become very difficult for middle class families to deal with, and on and on," Kelker says.

The 2017 Legislature found that consumers often don’t have the information they need to make responsible, cost-effective decisions about the health care services they’re buying.

Lawmakers thought that if they could require hospitals and other medical providers to  give patients more information about the cost of their care, it could help patients shop for better deals, and stabilize or reduce the rising price of healthcare services.

Four bills were offered during the last legislative session proposing different ways to essentially do the same thing — help patients know up front what they’re healthcare costs. The farthest a bill got was to the governor’s desk, before it was vetoed.

The bill sponsored by Republican Senator Ed Buttrey from Great Falls would have expanded when providers need to tell patients how much their treatment will cost and put in place a fine for failing to do so.

The proposal passed out of the Legislature with wide approval. However several Democratic leaders who had previously favored the bill, withdrew their support when a veto override was attempted.

In his veto statement, Bullock said he appreciated the Legislature's work to control costs and improve quality for health care consumers. But the governor said the bill would require health plans to develop new technology in order to show patients the pricing for their care, and the costs of developing those new transparency tools could be passed on to patients.

During the subcommittee’s meeting Tuesday, Senator Buttery said the veto was frustrating, and that the executive branch would need to work with lawmakers during this interim to create bipartisan solution.

"We have to come up with something that that governor is going to sign. We need to make sure that the executive comes here and we get an idea of what they feel transparency is," Buttrey said.

Governor Bullock has expressed his full support of the healthcare cost transparency study and directed his cabinet to assist in its effort.

As lawmakers and industry representatives begin their study, the committee will debate what is within their scope and desire to do as a state government to give incentives to consumers who shop for good health care deals, or to what extent health care providers should be compelled to reveal the cost of their services.

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