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The Hospital-Insurance Complex: A mortal blow?

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Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Heritage Valley Health System just might have started a revolution. But it's likely not the one it thinks or necessarily wants.

The health network, with hospitals in Sewickley and Brighton, says it will be the first in the region to post on its website the prices of 25 common outpatient procedures, applicable only to the uninsured. It wants “self-payers” to know in advance what their obligations will be. Now there's a novel idea, eh?

But if ever there were a crack in a wall that deserves to be a gaping hole in advance of the wall toppling, hospital pricing is it. And if this sets the stage for all prices to be posted — for those without insurance and those with and industrywide — the real and necessary revolution in health care soon could be pounding on the door.

Posted prices for all will lead to competition among hospitals and lower prices. But, and more importantly, it will go a long way in arresting what we'll call the Hospital-Insurance Complex. As insurance has devolved to cover just about everything and for a modest co-pay — and unnecessarily increasing utilization rates in the process — hospitals have been able to jack up prices.

But not only will posting prices lower consumer costs, it should force insurance carriers to make their product what it's supposed to be — coverage only for catastrophic medical events.

Only then will the beast that is health care begin to be tamed.

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