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Marketplace Morning Report

Medical bills may soon be as easy to read as credit card statements

Dan Gorenstein May 9, 2016
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What does this all mean?
meanderingwa/Flickr

There are few things as flat out baffling as a medical bill.

And that matters more and more as many of us end up paying out of pocket to cover our health costs. But there’s a chance these pages of gobbledygook may soon do the unexpected and explain what we owe.

On Monday morning, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services kicks off a competition to redesign medical bills and the billing process for consumers. In case you’ve missed the memo, federal health officials are overhauling health care to bring more “value” to the system.

Medical bills as simple as credit card statements are part of the transformation, said Greg Meyers, an executive with the hospital system INTEGRIS Health in Oklahoma, one of the providers committed to testing the winning designs.

“The great mystery of health care has always been what the hospital charges, why do they charge it, what do I get for it,” he said.

A shift to value for consumers means we must make choices based on price and quality. That’s pretty hard to do, especially when you don’t know what the price is until after the services have been rendered.

“Part of the billing challenge is trying to help patients understand what their financial responsibility is going to be as early on in the process as possible,” Meyers said.

Simpler bills would certainly be welcome. Knowing how much care costs before it is delivered would be revolutionary.

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