Price transparency in health care: Federal and state initiatives, ongoing challenges, and opportunities for the future

July 6, 2015

A person using a calculator with a stethoscope on the desk beside it.This brief provides an overview of price transparency initiatives in health care by federal and state governments and private entities; discusses the challenges associated with achieving the current goals of price transparency efforts; and highlights opportunities for moving forward to effectively achieve such goals.

In recent years, consumers have assumed an increasing share of health care spending through high deductible plans. For example, the average deductible for family coverage in Michigan more than doubled from 2002 to 2012, rising from $810 to $1,877, respectively. Deductibles for individual coverage in Michigan grew by 162 percent over the same period of time, increasing from $375 to $982, respectively.

In order to control rising health spending and provide more information on the cost of care to consumers, policymakers have increasingly focused on publishing data about payments to providers. As a result of these trends, the topic of “price transparency” has gained momentum in the United States.

For the purpose of this brief, price transparency in health care is defined as “the availability of provider-specific information on the price for a specific health care service or set of services to consumers and other interested parties.” 

The opportunities we discuss include providing price information to consumers, providing price information to providers, and federal and state databases.