Disclosure of health care costs law gets first discussion

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An ordinance being proposed by a Kenosha alderperson that would require disclosure of health care costs got its first round of public discussion in committee Monday night.

At the Public Safety & Welfare Committee meeting, Alderperson Anthony Nudo discussed his proposed ordinance.

“This is a broken system,” Nudo said. “I am trying to infuse capitalism and free market principles into a broken system.”

Nudo said he is going to meet with Ric Schmidt , president and CEO of United Hospital System, to get Schmidt’s feedback on the proposed ordinance in the next day or two. Schmidt was supposed to be at Monday’s meeting, but had a staff meeting to attend.

Nudo said he has heard it said that if this ordinance was enacted, doctors would flee the city. He highly doubts that, he said.

“Many insurance companies don’t cover cosmetic surgery,” Nudo stated. “Lasik eye surgery is a perfect example. Through competition, the cost has come down, and the quality has increased. Dentists are good at disclosing prices before performing actual services.”

Fire Chief John Thompson requested an exemption for ambulances. He said he didn’t know how Kenosha could enforce this. He felt that transient ambulance companies might create some problems, but he was willing to work on it.  Nudo said ambulances were covered under the section on medical emergencies, and that his proposed ordinance already exempted ambulances.

Alderperson Anthony Kennedy had some reservations. “Was a range of fees acceptable?” he asked. Kennedy said he could be more in support of this ordinance if it gave a 30-day time limit for the prices, for example. He thought that by disclosing their prices, that it would put Kenosha medical providers at a competitive disadvantage against others who were not making such disclosures.

Alderperson Nudo replied that this was part of the problem with the system. He agreed that some issues need to be worked on. For example, the use of emergency medical facilities for routine care. Would they have to disclose the cost to the consumer? According to this ordinance, yes. Kennedy said he thought that was an interesting idea. He likened this ordinance to certain provisions in Obama Care: standard of service, standard of care. Kennedy said he was glad to see that Nudo was endorsing parts of Obama Care.  Nudo replied: “Not.”

Kennedy further stated that “you can never take the measure of a business til it ends. The costs are merely a snapshot in time; they are not current costs. Therefore, it’s a work in progress.” Kennedy stated that he would not be in support of this ordinance at this time.

Alderperson Michael Orth said this ordinance was “completely rooted in common sense.” Knowing the prices that each doctor charges for certain procedures promotes “shopping around.” He stated that Southeast Wisconsin is one of the most expensive areas in the state as far as health care costs go. He felt that hospitals that abide by this ordinance might attract customers.

Alderperson Rocco LaMacchia stated that, since he works for United Hospital System, he would abstain from any discussion or any voting at the Common Council level.

Chairman Jesse Downing said that his bill for his life being saved a few years ago amounted to $35,000. “That’s no problem.,” Downing said. “Then, I got a letter in the mail stating that my insurance company saved me $27,000. It just makes me wonder how many people are getting screwed over? Doctors run hospitals like puppy mills. People get ripped off. We don’t allow puppy mills here. Then, why are we allowing these hospitals to run ‘puppy mills’?” Downing thanked Nudo for bringing this ordinance forward.

In answer to a question by Kennedy, Nudo said he drafted the ordinance himself, without consulting a similar law enacted elsewhere.

The committee ultimately voted 3 to 1 to send the ordinance on its way but also to have it  placed on the committee’s agenda again with no recommendation from the committee. Orth suggested Schmidt be invited to attend that meeting (probably on April 25) to discuss the proposal. Kennedy voted no and LaMacchia abstained.

 

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