The White House released an executive order Monday afternoon intended to require insurance companies, doctors and hospitals to give patients more information about precisely what their care will cost before they get it.
President Trump announced the new policy at a signing event, flanked by doctors and patients who had been hit by unexpected medical bills. The event came a week after the official launch of his re-election campaign, and it allows the president to make a claimthat he is pursuing a far-reaching health reform plan, his answer to voter concerns about the high costs of care.
“We’re taking power away from bureaucrats, we’re taking it away from insurance companies and away from special interests, we’re giving that power back to patients,” he said, adding that the proposal would bring health care costs “way, way down.”
“We’re taking one more giant step towards a heath care system that is really fantastic.”
Mr. Trump was elected on a promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he has continued to suggest that a plan to repeal the 2010 health law is around the corner, even after Republicans failed to pass several replacement bills in 2017. His attorney general is arguing in court that the entire law should be invalidated. But at Monday’s event, he sounded a more conciliatory note and said he had instructed the Health and Human Services secretary, Alex M. Azar II, to do “a great job” administering the Affordable Care Act.
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The transparency order could upend the traditional business practices of major players in the health care industry by revealing price negotiations that have typically been kept secret. Insurers and medical providers negotiate discounted prices in private, and neither party wants competitors to know the details of the deals they’ve struck. The result is a market that can be opaque, with consumers frequently shocked at the prices of their care. President Trump and Mr. Azar say patients could avoid such unpleasant surprises if they could find out the cost of medical services in advance.
But the wording of the order, which delegates the details to regulators, also leaves ample room for modest forms of transparency that might rankle industry officials less.
There had already been strong pushback by industry groups over any proposal that would have forced them to detail all of their negotiated prices. Exactly what information hospitals and insurers will have to disclose is not specified in the executive order, which has no force of law on its own. White House officials said the details would be worked out during the rule-making process.
In an interview after the president issued the order, Mr. Nickels said the decision to go through rule making was “a positive move,” indicating that the administration was listening to concerns from the industry and others. “They have clearly invited or encouraged stakeholders to weigh in,” he said
The president became interested in the issue after hearing stories from patients whose finances were upended by high medical bills. And he sold the idea in populist terms, saying that increased transparency could help protect patients from a predatory health industry. He has also called for legislation to ban so-called surprise medical bills, when patients receive care from a doctor in the hospital who is not covered by their insurance; Congress is moving to answer that call.
Administration officials say they believe the order could result in substantial decreases in the cost of medical care. “Prices will go down, and patients will win,” Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in an interview. Ms. Verma emphasized that the order “specifically mentions negotiated rates,” rejecting criticism that the order was watered down.