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August 2019

The Alliance Takes on the Wall Street Journal

August 1, 2019 by Washington Health Alliance

You may have seen the recent Wall Street Journal article, “Posting Health Prices Online Isn’t Cure-All.” In it, the reporter takes a close look at New Hampshire’s twelve years of experience of posting prices online and concludes that there have been few benefits: prices have not significantly decreased, overall spending has been reduced only marginally, and few consumers use the site. Even though “New Hampshire has one of the most comprehensive and oldest hospital price-transparency laws in the U.S.,” the article suggests it’s a failed experiment.

While I agree that price transparency alone will not compel the change we need, I believe the article fell short on the most important ingredient of change. It’s not just how price transparency can change health care, but how transparency coupled with engaged multi-stakeholder support can propel action. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Being willing is not enough. We must do.” When it comes to the Alliance, doing means bringing all of the different stakeholders together to inspire thoughtful conversations that lead to measurable improvements.

  • To help more than 15,000 employees access high quality health care, King County incorporated Alliance quality data in designing benefit plans and creating employee engagement programs, making it possible for them to make better health care decisions.
  • To better address the health care needs of its 18,000 home health caregivers, SEIU 775 learned from other Alliance members about ways to expand their behavioral health offerings, including launching a new mobile coaching app, video chats, screenings and online mindfulness classes, resulting in higher quality care.
  • The Everett Clinic used the Hospital Value report to identify areas that needed improvement and take action to make that possible.

These organizational choices have resulted in quality improvements for hundreds of thousands of people whose care is not only beating the Community Checkup’s statewide averages for care, but the HEDIS 10% national benchmarks.

We know that providing pricing and quality data is critical, but the key to change is the ability to bring all of the different and, sometimes, competing interests together towards the same goal. That is why we worked with the statewide Choosing Wisely Task Force to create the “Drop the Pre-Op” campaign to reduce the number of unnecessary preoperative lab tests on healthy people before low-risk procedures. In our last waste report, unnecessary pre-ops were responsible for an estimated $85.2 million in wasteful services impacting 122,257 individuals. Tremendous work remains ahead to eliminate these unnecessary tests in hospitals across our state and we stand ready to help in these efforts.

So yes, we agree with the Wall Street Journal that price transparency alone isn’t the answer. But, if we bring all of the stakeholders to the table and combine price transparency with quality measurement and waste reduction, and then put that information to work in purchasing, benefit design, changing practice patterns, and changing consumer behavior, that’s when we will drive changes in our health care system.

How do I know this? Because we already are.

I look forward to making more of that possible with you.

All the best,

Nancy Giunto