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‘Good Faith Estimate’ could prepare you for huge medical bills

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Most Americans think their biggest lifetime purchase will be there their home. But, a growing number of patients are facing medical bills twice as expensive as their home.

Retired mortgage broker Mark Smith is in that group. His medical charges totaled $150,000, double the value of his Noble, Oklahoma home.

Smith is diabetic and was hospitalized for a foot wound last year. He had 40 hyperbaric chamber treatments for his wound over the course of several months.

Each time, Smith asked about the cost of the 30-minute treatment.

He never got an answer.

However, after 38 treatments, the bills started arriving in the mail.

Turns out, each treatment cost $2,096 for a total of about $83,840.

"The customer deserves to have in writing what they're looking at so they can figure their own budget," Smith said. "My medical costs have exceeded what I paid for our home. So, why can't the government require a 'Medical Good Faith Estimate?"

It's a legitimate question. So, Mark and his wife, Sally Smith, started an online petition.

They are hoping someone in Congress will see the power of their idea to establish a Good Faith Estimate for medical services so you know the cost up front.

SIGN THE PETITION: change.org

"The financial decision of the patient is really important in the future because they've got to plan things. Plan their budget and a lot of things that are going to go on with this financial responsibility," Sally Smith said.

Price transparency in heath care is an idea that's catching on around the country and here in Oklahoma.

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The epicenter of the medical transparency movement is Surgery Center of Oklahoma where surgeons offer guaranteed cash prices, posted online, for more than 200 surgeries.

"Patients all over the country are using our prices to leverage better deals in their hometowns," said Surgery Center of Oklahoma co-founder Dr. Keith Smith. "The market in Oklahoma City is changing, really, in an exciting way. We're seeing price transparency in Oklahoma that the rest of the United States really isn't seeing yet."

There are about 20 medical facilities in Oklahoma with a similar billing guarantee.

Dr. Smith thinks a 'Medical Good Faith Estimate' is a good idea. But, he's cautious about government intervention in medical pricing.

"I think we need to be careful when we crawl to the government to ask them to help us with any situation," Dr. Smith said. "They just never get it right."

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has been fighting for fair pricing for Oklahoma consumers for more than a decade.

"It's actually unique to medical care that you don't know the price before you purchase," said OCPA Executive Vice President, Jonathan Small.

Small has been pushing for price transparency legislation at the State Capitol.

"As more and more people realize it is really the cost of care that's the problem, not lack of coverage, we'll eventually see the will of the people take place at the Capitol and we'll see changes," Small said.

According to free-market economists, as more and more patients, like Mark and Sally Smith, demand price transparency up front, more big hospitals will get on board so patients can make informed healthcare choices for their body and their budget.

GET STARTED: Here's a list of Oklahoma doctors who offer price transparency, provided by OCPA.

 

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