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Gansler proposes making health-care pricing easier to understand in Maryland

Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Douglas Gansler addresses reporters in Silver Spring in October. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

If he is elected governor of Maryland, Douglas Gansler (D) said Monday, he would immediately take steps to make health-care pricing in the state easier to understand and navigate.

Clarifying those costs could reduce the amount of medical debt that can financially cripple Marylanders, Gansler said in a statement as his campaign released the plan.

“Choosing medical care or reviewing your hospital bill should be as easy as buying clothes or booking a hotel,” Gansler, the state’s attorney general, said. “You should know the price up-front and not have to navigate through confusing jargon when reading your bills later on.”

Although the Affordable Care Act has made it easier and cheaper for many to get health-care coverage, Gansler said, medical debt continues to be “an enormous problem in Maryland and nationally.” While having health insurance reduces the risk of medical debt, the proposal points out that out-of-pocket costs, high deductibles and “inflated prices for medical services” can quickly add up.

Gansler proposes that Maryland modernize its online hospital price guide so that it’s easier to navigate and to compare pricing between hospitals. He cited California’s Healthcare Atlas as a model for his proposal.

Hospitals should also include a “friendly cheat sheet” with their invoices that explains charges, who will pay for what, payment options and other helpful information, according to the proposal. This would be similar to the box of basic information that is now included with credit card statements.

Under Gansler’s proposal, health-care providers would have to disclose an estimated price for a procedure, service or admission within two business days if a patient requests it. Massachusetts requires health-care providers to do this, according to the campaign.

Jenna Johnson is a political reporter who is covering the 2016 presidential campaign.

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