LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump called for more affordable and transparent health care costs.
Arkansas is one step ahead of him.
“It’s a small step, but I think it’s an important first step toward unlocking the black box and having us all be able to understand how the health care system works and what it’s going to cost us both in the short term and the long term,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, the president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI).
The federal government required hospitals to start posting their charges online Jan. 1.
“The information itself is not that useful for most consumers because what’s charged is usually not what’s paid,” Thomspson said.
The actual payment depends on a negotiation between the hospital and the insurance carrier, and also the design of the patient’s health plan.
Another website recently started to break down the average payment rates for different procedures in hospitals across the state.
“It will stimulate a conversation between the patient and their physician about what procedures are needed, how important they are and where to go to get the best procedure done,” Thompson said.
State lawmakers approved the Arkansas Health Care Transparency Initiative three years ago. Under the insurance commissioner’s authority, ACHI developed the state’s all-payer claims database. It tracks paid claims by insurance carriers.
A company based in New Hampshire, My Medical Shopper, applied to use the data.
“There has been anxiety about putting new, real information out on what health care costs, to actually shine the light inside the black box,” Thompson said. “Health insurance carriers are concerned, hospitals and providers are concerned.”
Hospitals in the area told KARK they plan to continue to “provide quality, compassionate care to all our patients in the most cost efficient manner possible.” They also said patients can call the hospital’s financial counselors for specific and personalized information.
To register for free to access the data on My Medical Shopper, click here.
“Users of our platform, which is accessible through our website as well as easy-to-use mobile applications, can find price estimates that reflect the insurance-negotiated discounts for thousands of medical tests and procedures before they seek care, rather than falling victim to surprise medical bills weeks or months after the care has already been received,” said Christopher Matrumalo, My Medical Shopper’s VP of Marketing. “We sought to work with ACHI because their Transparency Initiative’s stated goal is ‘to empower Arkansans to drive, deliver, and seek out value in the health system.’ We have found ACHI to be committed to this goal in practice, and we believe that our collaboration has introduced a powerful new dynamic to the healthcare marketplace in Arkansas.”
The website is the first of many that could make data like this available to Arkansas consumers. Thompson said other commercial entities and researchers have applied to gain access to the state’s all-payer claims database.
An advisory board reviews the applications to make sure there would be a benefit to Arkansans. The insurance commissioner ultimately approves the use, and ACHI provides the data to them.
According to the All-Payer Claims Database Council, 21 states have an existing database, 15 of them, including Arkansas, require submissions. Five other states are in the process of implementing one, and others are strongly considering it.