Assembly passes law that ensures medical providers give cost estimates

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The Anchorage Municipal Assembly set an ordinance to require health care practitioners and facilities, upon request, to provide an estimate of anticipated health care charges. The vote to pass the law was 9-1.

The ordinance advises medical providers to give patients a price estimate for health related services within 10 business days upon their request. The measure does not apply to emergency services.

An estimate of reasonably anticipated charges will include a brief description of procedures and services, standardized billing codes, facility fees and individualized charges.

Also included is a notice to consult with the patient’s insurer, letting them know they may contact his or her health insurer for additional information regarding cost responsibilities.

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar hopes that the new law will allow Alaskans to seek out better value and more accurately build their family budgets.

“I understand that healthcare billing is complicated and that varying insurance and individualized care means every case is different. Still, I think it is reasonable and necessary for healthcare providers to provide estimates of what they are going to charge their patients, even if those estimates aren’t always exact,” Dunbar said. “Without some frame of reference, it becomes impossible for patients to compare prices or even do their own family budgeting.”

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Assembly vice chair Dick Traini also participated in the vote of the recent healthcare transparency ordinance.

“Everything you buy, you know the price of… You should be able to buy your medical care with a price up front. I think it will be successful when people realize that they have a choice, and they’ll start asking for their cost estimates,” Traini said.

Gabriel Garcia, professor of public health at UAA, supports the ordinance that requires medical providers to give cost estimates before working on patients. Garcia believes that this new law has a lot of benefits for the people of Anchorage.

“Markets cannot function efficiently without meaningful pricing information. An increasing number of people today are becoming more curious about the price of their health care, and they are beginning to understand that more expensive care does not necessarily translate to better outcomes. Healthcare prices vary significantly between providers for the same services,” Garcia said. “Knowing the cost of medical care can empower healthcare consumers and potentially lead to reducing health care costs.”

Failure to timely provide an estimate will result in a daily fine of $100 until the estimate is provided to the prospective patient. The total fine may not exceed $1,000.

The ordinance was passed and approved on Feb. 28 and will be effective 60 days after on May 28.