WASHINGTON – Trying to pull back the veil on health care costs to encourage competition, the Trump administration on Thursday finalized a requirement for insurers to tell consumers up front the actual prices for common tests and procedures.
A major health insurance industry group said the regulation would have the opposite effect, raising premiums.
The late-innings policy play ahead of Election Day comes as President Donald Trump has been hammered on health care by Democratic challenger Joe Biden for the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its unrelenting efforts to overturn “Obamacare,” the 2010 law providing coverage to more than 20 million people.
A related Trump administration price disclosure requirement applying to hospitals is facing a federal lawsuit from the industry, alleging coercion and interference with business practices.
The idea behind the new regulations on insurers is to empower patients to become better consumers of health care, thereby helping to drive down costs.
But the requirements would take effect gradually over a four-year period, and patients face a considerable learning curve to make cost-versus-quality decisions about procedures like knee replacements or hernia repairs. Add to that political uncertainty about the policy's survival if Trump doesn't get reelected, and the whole effort is running into skepticism.
Administration officials are adamant the changes will stand, arguing the goal of price transparency transcends political partisanship.
“It will be impossible to walk backwards on this,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “How do you fight transparency on prices? How do you actually articulate the argument that you should conceal what something costs from the person trying to purchase it?”