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Prices for medical procedures will be posted so patients can see the cost

New law requires health care providers to post potential expense this January


August 22, 2018

Patients in Alaska will be able to see how much it will cost to receive medical care before actually visiting a doctor, clinic or hospital next year, thanks to new legislation signed into law earlier this month by the governor.

On August 6, Governor Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 105. The omnibus legislative piece seeks to increase transparency for medical costs, expand access to behavioral health services and study Adverse Childhood Experience syndrome (ACEs). The new law goes into effect on January 31 next year and it requires health care providers to post health care price information in public reception areas and online.

Dr. Angela Alfaro, a local physician and founding member of The Alfa Doc, LLC, also supports the legislation – from personal experience.

"My family recently had an experience like this with a specialist physician and the doctor didn't have a clue as to the cost of the procedure but advised us to `speak to the front desk,'" the doctor said.

Providers will also be required to provide price information to the state, which will make it available on the AK Dept. of Health and Social Services website. Providers not in compliance by March 31, will be fined.

For Jeremy O'Neil, administrator of Providence Valdez Medical Center, the legislation is being embraced in a positive way.

"Outside of adding a few more annual reporting requirements and finalizing the guidelines that hospitals and providers will follow, the implementation of the omnibus legislation will be mostly business as usual for Providence Valdez Medical Center (PVMC) and Providence Valdez Counselling Center (PVCC)." O'Neil said in an email. "Providing good faith estimates for non-emergency services has been a long-standing practice."

O'Neil also does not see the legislation creating negative problems for hospitals in Alaska.

"Providence Health and Services - Alaska in conjunction with the Alaska State Hospital and nursing home association (ASHNNA), and other stakeholders, worked in open dialogue with Alaska lawmakers to arrive at a statutory solution in SB105 that considered both price transparency for Alaskans and reducing overly burdensome requirements on facilities and providers," he said.

Alfaro hopes the new law will educate consumers and providers alike.

"I support SB 105 in regards to transparency of healthcare pricing. In general, most people have no idea how much healthcare costs with or without insurance and this bill is trying to increase that awareness," she said. "Interestingly, most physicians are not aware of the cost procedures, yet recommend courses of treatment without including this important information."

Alfaro noted that there will likely be some confusion over the price listings as providers and patients get acquainted with the new law.

"There will be a lot of disagreement about how we can list prices when patients pay different amounts based on the insurance plan or lack thereof, but in the end the bill is requiring us to provide information for informed decision making, which is what we should all strive for," Alfaro said.

Steven Weber photo

Edmore Mangena, left, behavioral health clinician at Providence Valdez Counseling Center, discusses various health determinants with Jeremy O'Neil, administrator of Providence Valdez Medical Center.

The new law states : A health care provider (and health care facilitiy) shall annually compile a list, including a brief description in plain language that an individual with no medical training can understand, of the ten health care services most commonly performed by the health care provider in the state in the previous calendar year from each of the six sections of Category 1, using current procedural terminology adopted by the American Medical Association and, for each of those services, state (1) the procedure code, (2) the undiscounted price, and (3) any facility fees.

The legislation also allows patients to have the option of receiving good faith estimates of non-emergency procedures and services upon request from health care insurers, providers or facilities within ten days.

The legislation requiring hospitals and clinics to make prices of common procedures known in advance was put forward by Democrat Representative Ivy Spohnholz of Anchorage and was passed unanimously by the Alaska State Senate and 29-11.

"Goods and services come at a cost that is paid by consumers," Spohnholz said in a prepared statement. "In almost every facet of life you know what something will cost, but for some strange reason, healthcare is different. In many cases, you don't know the cost of a treatment until it's done, and you get a bill."


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