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Reform Should Create Transparencies Throughout Healthcare

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, December 9, 2009

Newspapers across the country recognize "Sunshine Week" each year as a celebration of open government and honoring those communities, states, officials, and volunteers who are working to allow open communication between governments and their residents.

I wrote my share of Sunshine Week articles during my time in community journalism and heard a phrase often repeated by open government advocates: "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."

That need for sunshine isn't only required in governance—healthcare could use some rays too.

Provisions in health reform would do just that by making health insurance more transparent and health insurers more accountable.

Make no mistake, those behind more transparency and accountability don't like private insurers. During a news conference call on Tuesday afternoon, representatives from the Institute for America's Future, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, and Consumers Union, along with Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-CT), took aim at health insurers.

DeLauro called the current health insurance system a "black box" that the public doesn't understand. There simply isn't enough information that allows people to adequately compare health plans. Consumers check crash test ratings before buying a car and there should be similar ratings for health insurers, she said.

Provisions in health reform legislation being discussed on Capitol Hill would open up claims and payment data to consumers; require insurers to provide detailed information about policies, such as out-of-pocket costs and claims denial rates; and offer information about how premium dollars are spent.

Yes, greater health insurance transparency is needed, but I would go beyond that. Hospital and physician pricing and quality information should at the same time become more accessible to consumers so they can make informed healthcare decisions in aspects beyond insurance purchases.

This is all information that should be part of a health insurance exchange Web site.

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