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Idahoans need buying power in health care

Rep  Hixon ProfessionalWhen I was campaigning for my very first time back in 2012, tens of thousands of people were excited about my candidacy because of my innate ability to actively listen to the people whom I represent. They understood that I am an average hardworking guy, not another retired millionaire wanting to get elected to the Idaho Legislature.

As legislators, we look at a wide array of issues. I have already worked on fully funding education, 2nd Amendment protection, cutting taxes for small businesses, reducing regulatory fees, job growth, and much more. Of all these issues, one that stands out to me is the enormous burden of healthcare costs to Idaho’s families. It’s the one thing that I hear time and again. I already knew this coming in, but the troubling personal stories have amplified my concerns about this growing problem.

What I derived from my own personal experiences over the years, and all my deep conversations with my constituents, is that these high healthcare costs are now unsustainable for the average Idaho resident. Idaho has some of the lowest wages in the nation. Healthcare costs that seem to have no ceiling are the number one cause of bankruptcy in Idaho.

If you are looking for the Affordable Care Act to reduce the price tag on healthcare, your time would be better spent wishing you would hit the jackpot tonight. The ACA will not solve the root problem of high healthcare costs. In fact it opens the door for cost increases, not to mention that we are borrowing 43 cents on the dollar for all the billions of subsidy dollars shelled out for health insurance to those who qualify. Let me be very clear. We can’t fix the high cost of healthcare with more government subsidies.

This issue is very complex and this is not my area of expertise. But having immersed myself in studying health care costs over the last six months, I have found that many factors contribute. The one that all the research and money trails keep pointing back to is as clear as a high-mountain Idaho lake. There is little to no free market interaction or transparency when it comes to healthcare in Idaho.

I have seen firsthand how lopsided the relationship between buyer and seller is when it comes to healthcare. It clearly favors the seller. Patients lack even basic knowledge of costs, and they don’t have the leverage to bargain with providers. Additionally, the sellers can and do place ludicrously high price tags on items ranging from an ordinary aspirin to ambulance rides.

Thirty-six U.S. states have adopted transparency legislation in one form or another, and Idaho is not one of them. Forty-seven states collect data from their hospitals, and again Idaho is not one of them. This year, my freshman term, I have decided to take decisive action.

Without re-inventing the wheel, I have taken some very good existing transparency language from around the country and crafted legislation that will direct all hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to provide discharge data and other data sets as part of their Idaho licensing requirement. At the same time, Idaho will engage in a bidding process to hire a private vendor to verify and process the data. This vendor will also create a website and mobile application to disclose the average reimbursement price for the top 50 most common inpatient and outpatient services, as well as the top 25 most common inpatient and outpatient surgical procedures.

The most comprehensive study I’ve seen, from the University of Chicago, says integrating pricing transparency could create an average cost savings in Idaho of 7 percent. That equates to hundreds of millions of dollars. I think my fellow colleagues in the Idaho Legislature understand the importance of this bill. It passed the House Health and Welfare Committee unanimously on Feb. 11. I have worked diligently with all stakeholders, but not surprisingly the hospitals are opposing this legislation.

The one bid I’ve gotten for the initial vendor cost would be $1.7 million from the General Fund. The ongoing cost would depend on the vendor, who would be obtained through an RFP process.

This bill will ensure patient rights pertaining to billing and cost disclosure, and fully comply with HIPPA privacy requirements that protect Idahoan’s information. I have also revised our severely outdated Idaho Medical Savings accounts statue. This is accomplished by removing the cap of $2,000 per person, and also incentivizing employers in this state to start contributing to these all-important accounts.

It’s a very simple formula. Transparency in pricing, plus Idaho tax-free money in a savings account that anyone can accrue year-over-year without penalty, equals much-needed buying power for Idahoans. Why is this important? Because all hospitals and surgical centers in Idaho are being gifted many millions of dollars in sales tax and property tax breaks by the same very people who are going bankrupt trying to keep up with sky-high healthcare costs.

The healthcare industry is taking baby steps in lowering costs, but I think these measures should have been in place many years ago, and need to grow exponentially. I am fully aware that this legislation doesn’t solve this very complicated problem.  However, it will provide some much-needed buying power for all Idaho residents in the meantime.

Our hospitals and surgical centers provide a great service to their communities. But Idahoans have earned transparency, and deserve the use of data analytics to measure their investments in our hospitals and surgery centers. You cannot improve what you cannot measure.

In my mind, the status quo is broken. Let’s get to work and fix it.

Rep. Brandon Hixon is an independent insurance agent in Caldwell who was elected in 2012. He can be reached at www.hixoninthehouse.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hixoninthehouse.


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