Everett Clinic leads the way

Decipher an itemized medical bill, and behold the price gouging. So many tests, so much dinero.

Even in the age of Obamacare — and perhaps as a byproduct of it — the need to comparison shop for health care is vital.

As The Herald’s Sharon Salyer writes, the Everett Clinic is in the vanguard, becoming Western Washington’s first major healthcare provider to list some of its prices for tests.

“Health care is so darned expensive,” the Everett Clinic’s CEO, Rick Cooper, tells Salyer. “Patients deserve transparency on what the prices will be.”

For self-pay, code for the uninsured or those who simply prefer to shell out of pocket, a couple major tests are surprisingly affordable. A 2-view chest X-ray is $74.75 (pay within 30 days, and it’s $56.06.) Likewise, a complete abdominal ultrasound is $239.63, but only if you pony up within a month. Other tests, such as MRIs, are heftier, but not as bankrupting as many might imagine. It’s $1,264.25 for a brain MRI, discounted by 25 percent if you don’t postpone payment.

The Immediate Clinic, with offices in Lynnwood and Everett, also posts their prices.

A youth-sports physical is $50. Drain an abscess and it will drain you of $115.

This is an a la carte list, the usually veiled prices that go to insurance companies. Those companies then negotiate with the provider for a discount. Thanks to the Everett Clinic, in particular, part of that veil is being lifted.

Ideally, price disclosure would be mandated by the state, but a comparison-shopping database wasn’t able to navigate its way through the Legislature in one piece. Instead, only Medicaid and state employee health plans are required to reveal their price list.

The mission is enlightened self-interest. In a competitive marketplace, prices ratchet down. But that requires transparency and knowledge of specific costs.

Bob Crittenden, a health policy adviser for Gov. Jay Inslee, observes, “Once you have real competition, you can see prices come down. You get that variation when people have a cloak of nondisclosure so they can charge anything they want. When prices are publicly disclosed, people change their prices.”

Today, patients ping-pong around looking for the best available deals, especially when surgery and post-op recovery are involved.

That’s why transparency is in the public interest, whether compelled by the state or by market forces. Thanks to leadership from Rick Cooper and the Everett Clinic, the onus is on other major health providers to step up. The camel’s nose is under the tent. There’s no turning back.