Letters: Health care price transparency needed

Johnson City Press • Jan 24, 2020 at 6:00 AM

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Health care price transparency needed

In your Jan. 7 issue, Ballad Health announced that it is “taking steps to reduce costs for patients.” That is commendable, but what does that mean? What are the prices being discounted, how can we obtain these prices, and how can we make sure that these prices include all the services patients need in order to get the results they are looking for?

The only place I have seen Ballad’s prices posted publicly is on the online “Chargemaster List.” It is a consumer-unfriendly Excel spreadsheet listing over 12,000 medical services.

Last fall, a patient of mine said that Ballad had quoted him $2,000 for a knee MRI, which at that time represented a 71% discount from the price listed at on its “Chargemaster.” We found him one in Newport for $422, radiologist’s fee included.

Which would you prefer — paying Ballad’s “discounted” price of $2,000 not knowing if it includes everything or a “full” price of $422 with everything included?

When more than one service is involved, such as with a colonoscopy, pricing confusion is multiplied. Ballad doesn’t even list a price on its current Chargemaster for this procedure, but last fall it was $3,560. Did that price include the fees for the gastroenterologist, nurse anesthetist, and pathologist or was it just for the use of Ballad’s facility? My direct pay patients don’t care after I tell them they can obtain one for $1,275 through Colonoscopy Assist with all fees included. At that point they say, “Anywhere but Ballad.”

CEO Alan Levine stated that expanding Ballad’s discounts “are not a long-term solution to the ‘affordability crisis’ in health care.” He is right, seeing that discounts on inflated prices don’t save people money. What we need are transparent, all-inclusive prices.


Pay attention to local politics

In an era when protestors hit the streets to demonstrate in favor or against numerous issues — women's rights, gun control, Medicare for All, whatever the president did that we don't approve of this week, etc., I am shocked at the lack of public interest as special interests work to raid the public coffers.

Just this week we have seen the Chamber of Commerce ask Johnson City to buy its old building for half-a-million dollars and the latest request from the county Election Commission to Washington County to buy the old ACE Hardware store for its use, in this case for a price higher than the building's appraisal. Kudos to Joe Grandy for his attempt to block the purchase.

What happened to putting unused assets on the open market to determine their actual worth and selling to the highest offer? With public officials constantly telling us how tight public finances are these days, how do they explain, with straight faces, spending public funds on over-priced, aged buildings offered by influential interests?

Let's start protesting the issues affecting us directly today, like the use of our tax dollars.


Happy birthday, library

Congratulations to the Johnson City Public Library’s on its 125th anniversary. JCPL is gem in this town which I suspect most people have not used. I’ve heard newcomers say that two reasons they move to Johnson City are the weather and the library.

Keep up the good work!

Johnson City

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