Trump putting patients in control

Published 10:02 pm Wednesday, July 17, 2019

By Alex M. Azar

A few years ago, my doctor recommended a routine heart exam. I would be paying for it out-of-pocket, since I had a high-deductible plan, so naturally I asked what it would cost.

After a great deal of effort, I was told the list price was $5,500, and my insurer’s rate was $3,500. But when I did some more research, I found out the same procedure could be had elsewhere for a 10th of the price: $550.

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President Donald Trump has heard from many Americans who’ve had this kind of experience, like Eric Ferguson, from North Carolina, who received an $89,000 bill for being treated with anti-venom medication, which typically costs about $750 a unit.

Americans know our health care system is high quality, but experiences like these leave us feeling like we’re at the mercy of a shadowy system we can’t control. President Trump wants to fix that, while keeping what works about our system today.

That’s why the president recently signed an executive order directing me, his health secretary, to take major steps to deliver American patients the affordability they need, the options and control they want, and the quality they deserve.

One step is a historic proposal for hospitals to publicly disclose information about the prices insurers and patients actually pay, in an easy-to-read way — before patients have to pay for the services. The executive order also requires federal agencies to come up with a plan to simplify and improve how we measure quality in health care, and opens up more ways for patients to use Health Savings Accounts to pay for primary care and chronic illnesses.

Special interests have kept critical information secret from patients for too long, raising prices by stifling competition. When prices are disclosed and patients can shop, everybody benefits. One study found that when patients were able to shop around for services such as X-rays and MRIs, their costs dropped by hundreds of dollars. Prices also began to vary less, which is important when some providers in Virginia currently charge 24 percent more than what other providers charge for, say, a typical knee MRI.

President Trump is fulfilling his promise to bring true change to American health care on other fronts, too. He recently finalized several ways to give millions of Americans new power to choose an insurance plan that best suits them, projected to provide almost 2 million more Americans with insurance coverage and millions more with new options.

The president is also tackling prescription drug costs. He signed legislation that ends “gag clauses,” which kept pharmacists from telling their patients about potentially lower prices for drugs. Comprehensive efforts to improve competition and negotiation are producing results: in 2018, inflation for prescription drug prices actually was negative for the first time in almost 50 years.

Bringing transparency to health care is all about putting you in control. It’s a major contrast from proposals for a total government takeover of health care, which would put bureaucrats, rather than patients, in charge. President Trump is going to keep fighting to put the American people in control of their own health care, and their own money.


Alex M. Azar II is U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.