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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Health Data Has Potential To Help Consumers Compare Prices

Vermont's auditor wants the state to develop a comprehensive database that would allow consumers to check out specific price information for all health care procedures throughout the state.

Vermont's auditor wants the state to develop a database that will allow consumers to compare prices charged by hospitals and doctors. Over the last seven years, a program known as the Vermont Health Care Uniform Reporting and Evaluation System has compiled a database of virtually all health care claims made in the state.

The database is a digital catalog of all fees and services that insurance companies, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, have paid out for Vermont residents. 

After looking at the program, State Auditor Doug Hoffer has concluded that the database could serve as the foundation of a new system that would allow consumers to check out specific price information for all health care procedures throughout the state.

“It’s providing consumers — all of us — with information we’ve never had," said Hoffer. "Which is, 'I’m thinking about a procedure that has been recommended to me. It’s not an emergency, I don’t have to go to the hospital in five minutes, I’d like some information about who provides that type of procedure, where are they, how much does it cost?'"

"It is providing consumers, all of us, with information we have never had." - Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer

Hoffer says a similar system was put into place in New Hampshire several years ago. In addition to providing important information to consumers, he says it also had an impact on health care providers.

"[They] began to see their competitors’ prices and they said, 'Gee, we’re a little out of line,'” said Hoffer. “And so they started to see prices moderate. I don’t think they went down but I think the level of increase moderated.”

The development of a comprehensive and transparent health care pricing system is a top priority of the Green Mountain Care Board.

Board chairman Al Gobeille says the next step is designing a searchable database that all consumers can easily use. He says this information will also help the Board develop new strategies to improve health care outcomes.

“What’s the health of different areas of the state and to be able to drill down to try to figure out why — what’s the level of payment variation around the state and why?” said Gobeille. “I think those are as we move towards more informed delivery system those are all very important things to be able to do.”

Gobeille also thinks the database will be helpful for many health care providers.

“We have all this data about you as a person that your doctor needs to know to inform them and how do we make it real time in their hands?” said Gobeille. “That’s the ultimate goal of all of this.”

Gobeille says “the jury is still out” on whether providing consumers with health care price information will alter their behavior when it comes to choosing medical procedures.

But he says there are so many other benefits in developing the program that the Board wants to pursue the plan on an accelerated timetable.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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