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Ohio healthcare transparency law in legal limbo

Two years after it passed unanimously in Ohio’s state Legislature, a law meant to inform patients what health care procedures will cost has yet to be implemented (Source: “Health-care price transparency faces opposition in Ohio from hospitals and doctors,” Kaiser Health News via Cincinnati Enquirer, July 23, 2017).

One of the most stringent in a group of similar state laws being proposed across the country, Ohio’s Healthcare Price Transparency Law stipulated that providers had to give patients a “good faith” estimate of what non-emergency services would cost individuals after insurance before they commenced treatment.

But the law didn’t go into force on Jan. 1 as scheduled. The Ohio Hospital Association, one of the most vocal critics of the law, has filed a court injunction that is currently delaying enactment.

Joining the hospital association in its legal action are a wide range of provider groups including Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Psychological Association, the Ohio Physical Therapy Association, and the Ohio chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Surgeons, and the American Osteopathic Association. These groups say that the law, which applies only to elective procedures, is too broad and that forcing providers to create estimates before procedures would slow down patient care.

But Jerry Friedman, a retired health policy adviser for the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said the opposition doesn’t stem from genuine concern about patients but from a desire to keep the secret rates that providers have negotiated with insurers under wraps. Transparency would mean explaining to consumers why the hospital charged them $1,000 for a test, he said, adding that providers “don’t want to expose this house of cards they’ve built between hospital physician industry and the insurance industry.”

Rep. Jim Butler, an Oakwood Republican who authored the law, said, “If you really want patients to be empowered, they really need the information.”

The law’s next test will come in August, when the first court hearing on the association’s lawsuit is scheduled. The Kasich administration said it couldn’t comment on the law because of the pending litigation.