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HealthCare Checkup

The Seattle Times health-care team tracks the local impact of the Affordable Care Act.

Topic: All-Payer Claims Database

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March 14, 2014 at 12:08 PM

Legislative review: health-care bills that lived and died in Olympia

State Capitol building in Olympia. Photo by MathTeacherGuy and used under Flickr's Creative Commons license.

State Capitol building in Olympia. Photo by MathTeacherGuy and used under Flickr’s Creative Commons license.

Thursday night marked the close of the 2014 legislative session. And despite a divided leadership — the Majority Coalition Caucus (Republican-powered) in the Senate while Democrats rule the House — some significant, as well as less important, health-care legislation made it to the finish.

Here’s what passed and moves to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will likely approve most, if not all, of the measures:

Boosting transparency, cutting costs, coordinating mental health care

Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2572 got most of its attention over a provision to create a publicly-accessible database containing medical cost and quality information. But the legislation, requested by Inslee and sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, does much more.

The bill includes strategies for improving mental-health care for low-income residents, has a plan for creating a system of measuring the quality of doctors, clinics and hospitals, and takes action on the Washington State Health Care Innovation Plan, a wide-reaching document that aims to cut medical costs.

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0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, All-Payer Claims Database, health insurance

March 13, 2014 at 9:40 PM

New laws will help consumers find cheapest, best docs and hospitals

Consumers will have new tools for finding out what a trip to the doctor will cost before they take it, thanks to two bills passed by Washington lawmakers.

One will require insurance companies to provide customers with a tool for doing cost- and quality-comparison shopping, while the other creates a public, statewide database with information on quality, but limited price data.

Medical procedures can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars more at one clinic or hospital than another, but most people don’t realize there’s a huge disparity in price, or know how to find that information. Transparency advocates hope that if people easily can compare the prices of everything from a hip replacement to open-heart surgery, they’ll opt for the less expensive option, ultimately driving down medical costs.

“Your goal is to change people’s behavior. You want to show them this is what things cost,” said Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah. “People will start to be more engaged, and shop on price. It’s the only sector of the economy where people don’t know what things cost until they do the procedure.”

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0 Comments | Topics: All-Payer Claims Database, health insurance, transparency

February 3, 2014 at 11:22 AM

How to avoid medical bill surprises

Healthcare BluebookNo one wants to buy a sweater, rent a car or order a bottle of wine with almost no idea what it will cost or how good it will be. Yet for the most part that’s how we buy our health care, with little idea of its cost or quality ahead of time. And consumers are often surprised to learn that health care can be many times more expensive at one facility compared to another.

That could change soon in Washington. Officials here are eager to shine some light on the price of health care in an effort to rein in medical costs, as I reported on Sunday. But if you’re shopping for care now, there are some tools available to help consumers make informed decisions.

If you have health insurance, chances are your insurance company has a cost comparison tool on their website, though they can be hard to find. Once you log into your insurer’s site, look for the cost tool or a tool that lets you search for a doctor. Cost and quality information are sometimes paired with the doctor search.

A national site called Healthcare Bluebook lets you search for a “fair price” for services in your area. It also gives suggestions for how to request price information and negotiate costs with your local hospitals and clinics.

When it comes to measuring the quality of care, the Washington Health Alliance (formerly Puget Sound Health Alliance) for many years has surveyed and published information about the performance of hospitals and clinics through its Community Checkup website. The national Leapfrog Group also publishes information about hospital safety.

But none of these options perfectly wed easy-to-search cost and quality information available with the public, regardless of whether they’re insured and who insures them.

State leaders are trying to change that, and one avenue is through new rules being proposed in Olympia.

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0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, All-Payer Claims Database, health insurance