Whether you know Ron Howard as Opie Taylor of the Andy Griffith Show, that guy from Happy Days, or as the famous director of the epic films Apollo 13 or A Beautiful Mind, he is an impressive guy. His film portfolio is diverse, but we would argue that his best work comes from dramatizing real life events — telling stories that everyone should know but probably didn’t until Ron Howard made a movie about it. His latest film — Thirteen Lives — reminds us all of the harrowing event in 2018 when 12 boys and their Thai soccer team coach spent 18 long days trapped inside a flooded cave until an international rescue mission and the best divers in the world managed to save all of them with an elaborate set of solutions. In the One Thoughtful Paragraph below, we tell a story about an elaborate solution that will allow people to know the price of health care services for the first time ever.
Part of the impossible-ness of saving those boys from the flooded cave in 2018, is that it required expert-level scuba diving in claustrophobic-inducing and sharp-edged underwater tunnels. Not only was this journey not for mere mortals, it was the ultimate challenge for world class divers — who decided that anesthetizing the boys (who mostly couldn’t swim) was the only way to ensure that they wouldn’t panic and drown themselves during the lengthy escape. Our health data problems are not exactly like that (though we admit to pining for a little anesthesia from time to time), but it is true that the health care price data that is available is also not for “mere mortals” — as Georgetown’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms expert Sabrina Corlette recently explained here. Our story begins with the 2020 Transparency in Coverage rule that requires health plans to publish “machine-readable files” — loads of data listing each payer’s negotiated reimbursement rates with providers and “allowed amounts” that plans pay providers who do not have a contract with them. A solution is required to allow mere mortals to understand “machine-readable” data files. Enter stage right: Milliman (actuarial experts) and Turquoise Health (a tech start-up that created a health care price search engine) created a “strategic alliance dedicated to making sense of price transparency data for healthcare stakeholders.” While these brave experts have a flood of data to navigate, we trust their efforts will require less anesthesia. But if they figure this out, we should probably buy them a beer.