A Senate committee session in which expert witnesses discussed healthcare costs, hospital prices, and data transparency ended with a plea from the chair, Sen. Max Baucus, for "specific recommendations" from "anyone."
The Senate Finance Committee spent more than two hours Wednesday discussing the relationship between healthcare costs and transparency with a panel of witnesses that included Steven Brill, the author of a March 2013 Time magazine cover story titled "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us."
Brill proved to be a provocative witness and directed much of the discussion. Throughout his testimony and during the question and answer period, he often took direct aim at the chargemaster, or what some call the "sticker price" for the 100 most common Medicare inpatient diagnostic related groups or DRGs.
"No one can explain anything about … the chargemaster, which all hospitals have but which vary wildly, hospital by hospital, and have absolutely nothing to do with quality. Nor can anyone explain why the chargemaster's sky-high list prices are charged mostly to those least able to pay, the uninsured or the underinsured."
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"And no one can explain why the discounts that insurance companies pay to hospitals and other providers off of the chargemaster vary so wildly, which, of course, affect that co-payments and deductibles paid by patients lucky enough to have insurance."
He cast the chargemaster as a metaphor for the entire healthcare system. "It's irrational; it's completely unaccountable; and the prices are just way too high."