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Health care practitioners often have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, medicine is a business. It actually costs money to provide health care to patients. At the same time, there is legitimate concern about just how much profit should be made off of the suffering of sick and injured individuals. One topic of controversy is that patients are rarely told up front what the actual cost of their care or treatment is. The theory behind this policy is generally that it eliminates patients making health care decisions on the basis of cost and yet at the same time, it often ends up landing patients saddled with a lifetime of unexpected debt.

While the intention of policies that prohibit hospitals and medical practitioners from discussing the cost of treatment might have good intentions, the outcome is that patients have very little control over determining their own best course of action. In almost any other industry, when prices are clearly listed, it creates competition which helps keep costs in check. Without any kind of transparency, medical costs can quickly spiral out of control with patients being none-the-wiser. A procedure that may cost $2,000 at one hospital may cost $10,000 at another and patients would have no idea.

New legislation could change all of that, but it still has a long way to go to actually be of any use to patients. In 2019, the Trump administration rang in the new year with a new policy requiring health care providers to list the price of the most common procedures on their website. The truth is, however, that listing the price of medical procedures is just not that simple. The reality is, the actual cost of a procedure for one patient might be entirely different from the cost of the same procedure for another.

For instance, a routine surgery on one patient might go smoothly and only take 45 minutes. Another patient may experience complications that drag the same surgery out to 3 hours or more, in addition to causing the need for additional surgeries or calling in additional specialists or personnel. Needless to say, the cost of labor and personnel alone for a 3-hour surgery is significantly higher than that of a 45-minute surgery.