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Oklahoma lawmaker authors bill to help patients compare hospital prices

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OKLAHOMA CITY - One Oklahoma lawmaker wants to make prices for surgeries as easy to compare as prices for groceries.

However, a local doctor is skeptical of the government mandating transparency.

Dr. Keith Smith, the medical director of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, shows us his clinic's menu.

A hernia surgery for $3,000.

A hysterectomy for $8,000, which is a fraction of the cost other hospitals charge when they don't list their surgical prices.

If they did, Smith said, "The quality will go up and the prices will drop, just like every other industry in the United States."

Listing prices for common procedures has brought patients from around the country and the world to the Surgery Center.

It's a concept that he says helps people avoid the shock that usually accompanies the moment they open the hospital bill.

Smith said, "It's easier to make off with someone's life savings if you don't tell them up front that you're about to take it."

State Rep. Arthur Hulbert, who is a physical therapist, likes the idea of health care cost transparency.

He authored House Bill 2400, called the Oklahoma Health Care Cost Reduction and Transparency Act of 2014.

Hulbert said, "How can [patients] sign a line of financial responsibility if they really don't know what that responsibility could be?"

HB 2400 would require hospitals that bill Medicaid to provide price information for the 100 most common diagnostic-related groups, 100 most common surgical procedures and 50 most common imaging procedures to the Oklahoma Department of Health.

"If you have the best quality product and a reasonable price, you want that information to be out there," Hulbert said.  "If it wasn't so, then you wouldn't already have a surgical center doing it and being successful at it."

Dr. Smith is skeptical of legislated transparency because he fears lawmakers will allow powerful hospitals to become exempt from the bill.

He said, "Then the whole health system can claim that they're transparent when their name might not even be on the list."

HB 2400 would also require prices to be posted on the health department's website.

Hospitals would also have to report the reimbursement amount they receive from Medicaid and Medicare.

Rep. Hulbert said he would stand by his bill, regardless of any hospital opposition.

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