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Medical debt could be affected by transparency requirements

Medical costs can play a significant role in Washington residents' bankruptcy proceedings. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, many may be expecting that situation to change, but experts say that cost-transparency failures could still lead Washingtonians into medical debt. Hospitals and medical facilities rarely share the true costs of their services up-front, which deceives consumers and prevents them from getting the best deal. Now, some state lawmakers are pushing for change that would lead to better consumer protection.

Research shows significant variance in the cost of medical procedures. For example, patients who undergo a tonsillectomy at a Kirkland clinic could pay just $2,200 for the surgery, which would cost $7,000 at a larger Seattle facility. State lawmakers insist that the ACA was designed to prevent such abuse by introducing choice and free-market competition into the health care industry. Consumers currently do not have enough information to make appropriate decisions, according to these advocates.

Creditor protection is still valued by many in the industry, however, as insurance companies and other opponents argue that the public is not ready for additional cost and quality information. Medical debtors say they are not sure that transparency would actually drive down prices. Insurance companies ostensibly want to maintain the prices they have secretly set through closed-door meetings with hospitals and providers.

Now, creditors' rights could be in peril with the development of a new database with payment information from various facilities. Insurance companies would be required to disclose the costs of certain procedures at certain facilities, allowing patients to access the information. Legislators argue that these protections could help consumers manage their money more effectively.

Washington legislators are working to prevent unfair creditor protection by pushing for increased transparency among health care providers. Those facing a bankruptcy proceeding because of medical debt may benefit from the assistance of a qualified Washington attorney, who can help them learn more about their rights and options.

Source: Seattle Times, "Inslee, lawmakers pushing to lift veil on pricing for health care" Lisa Stiffler, Feb. 01, 2014

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