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The Opacity of Transparency: The Search for a Cure to Our Health Care Woes

By: Niall Brennan

Health care spending is exceedingly difficult to control for our nation, the states, and private payers, but also for individual patients and providers. While there has been some moderation in spending in recent years in programs like Medicare, the health share of gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to continue to rise from 17.9 percent in 2016 to 19.7 percent in 2026 (see Figure 1).

Over the past decade, concerns about health care spending growth have prompted multiple initiatives, including price transparency efforts, to cure our health care spending woes.

Price transparency has become a widely accepted term in the healthcare lexicon, yet it lacks a standard definition, being liberally used to describe a varied and fragmented set of initiatives – from data sharing to consumer empowerment – all intended to rein in health care spending. But with no integrated approach, price transparency initiatives have been merely chiseling away at spending on individual components of a large, complex, and intractable health system with little measurable impact on overall spending. Despite these lackluster results, interest in price transparency remains strong, with a bipartisan group consisting of US Senators and the Department of Health and Human Services requesting public input on price transparency principles and proposals in recent months.2,3 

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