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12/2/2017
PoV: Ketchikan needs standard health care cost transparency requirements for all providers

By CHELSEA GOUCHER

Health care consumers, especially those with high-deductible plans, are increasingly seeking information about the costs of health care procedures.  Timely, transparent disclosure of health care costs is essential to protecting the interests of consumers, and allowing markets to function efficiently. Health care currently the only industry in which consumers receive a service without being able to understand the price in advance or in a predictable manner.

 Many residents in our community have experienced difficulties in obtaining information about the costs of health care services in a timely and consistent fashion. These difficulties foment a culture of mistrust and create uncertainty, billing disputes, and an increased tendency to seek medical services outside of the Ketchikan area — none of which are in the best interest of local practitioners or the health of our community as a whole.

 The Municipality of Anchorage has taken a proactive approach to mitigate these issues by adopting a municipal ordinance (No. 2017-26), which requires health care practitioners to estimate charges upon request in a reasonable and timely fashion in advance of services.

While some practitioners in the Ketchikan area have proven willing to voluntarily improve their billing practices, it would be much better for the community if the Ketchikan City Council were to adopt an ordinance mirroring Anchorage’s, one which treats all practitioners equally, and requires all practitioners to follow the same set of predictable, reliable guidelines. Such an ordinance will create better market conditions for consumers, increase consumer satisfaction, and will help mitigate the increasing trend of “medical tourism” to access services in other locations.  In the long run, this ordinance will help to guarantee that quality health care remains available to our community, in our community, well into the future.

 The Anchorage ordinance’s requirements are reasonable and can be easily met by any reputable practitioner. The ordinance is already being implemented successfully, and is being adhered to by a wide range of service providers, both large and small. A similar health care transparency ordinance for Ketchikan will support community livability and resident satisfaction, helping to make Ketchikan a more attractive place to live, work, and do business.

While certain practitioners’ offers of voluntary reform are appreciated, Ketchikan deserves a standard set of requirements that are the same for all providers. The best way to achieve that would be for the City of Ketchikan to take action to adopt an ordinance substantially similar to Anchorage Ordinance 2017-26.

Chelsea Goucher is president of the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce. This opinion has been endorsed by the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce through a board vote of ratification.