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  • Julie Barnes

August 27, 2021

Maverick's Update

Only What Matters In Health Information Policy

A synonym for “transparency” is “clear” -- but when it comes to healthcare price transparency, everything is about as clear as mud. Fun fact -- the Cambridge Dictionary explains “clear as mud” with this sentence: “The computer manual was as clear as mud, so we stopped reading it.” More on the lack of clarity in computing and health care below.


For now, there are a few things that are clear in digital health news:

  • Google Health will reportedly no longer function as a unified organization but will still be investing in health-focused initiatives. Google Health’s chief, David Feinberg, M.D., is joining Cerner as its new CEO and president.

  • Mental health app Headspace announced plans to merge with on-demand digital mental health service Ginger, which should be a very big deal, not only because it is valued at $3 billion, but because it will help create virtual solutions to address the growing mental health problem exacerbated by the pandemic.

  • Politico is reporting that states are unable to match patients’ hospital admission data with their immunization / vaccination records, which means that the CDC is using outdated, unreliable data on coronavirus breakthrough infections to help make major decisions. We’ve seen this movie before -- it was over a year ago that CDC Director Redfield asked Congress for money to modernize the public health data system, and it was one year and 8 months ago when the ONC discussed how health IT solutions could help the CDC and state immunization data collection efforts.

One Thoughtful Paragraph

It is difficult for regular people to know the cost of a healthcare service or treatment ahead of time, which is what gave rise to the No Surprises Act, and transparency rules for hospitals and health plans. These policies are designed to make healthcare prices public or to hold patients harmless from exorbitant prices. They were developed by the prior administration and last year’s Congress, but President Biden is supporting these policies. In fact, CMS has sent multiple warning letters to hospitals that fail to make their prices public and will penalize them (financially) if they don’t comply. But it turns out that putting a price to a healthcare service is complicated. Simplifying a health care procedure into one price is tough when procedures are tailored to meet the needs of an individual patient, and when multiple insurers have negotiated with a hospital / doctors based on several different variables (e.g., availability of competitors, geographic region, quality issues). And in the middle of a pandemic, there is not a lot of bandwidth to focus on a new and game-changing operational shift that will suddenly make the muddy healthcare price landscape clear. The trickiest part about this is making the enormous vats of information useful ... and even The New York Times reports that, at the moment, you need a computer programmer to figure out what healthcare services cost. And even the Cambridge Dictionary uses that as an example of “clear as mud.”

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