(The Center Square) – North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell is calling on hospitals to follow new federal rules and make their health care prices public.
Hospitals were required as of Friday to fully disclose prices for services online, unveiling negotiated rates between hospitals and insurers.
President Donald Trump's administration said the information would make it easier for consumers to shop around, compare prices and estimate the cost of care before seeking treatment. Folwell said it is a "baby step" in the right direction in expanding health care access in North Carolina.
"We think that anytime you get rid of secret contracts and push the power to the consumer, that ultimately, it will increase access to health care," said Folwell, who manages the State Health Plan. "It will increase affordability of health care, and ultimately, it will increase the quality of health care for those that teach, protect, and otherwise serve."
Hospitals, however, have opposed the rule that federal health officials estimate could cost them $39.4 million. The American Hospital Association sued to block the rule, arguing it overreaches and violated the First Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the policy in December. Hospitals that do not comply could be subject to a fine of $300 a day.
Folwell has pushed for more pricing transparency from North Carolina medical providers through the Clear Pricing Project (CPP). With the CPP, the treasurer's office created the North Carolina State Health Plan Network, which reimburses providers Medicare rates plus an average of 60% for services they provide to state employees.
The project has been promoted as an initiative to increase the members' health care outcomes and lower costs. Folwell said Tuesday it fairly compensates primary care and mental health providers, which closely influence the well-being of State Health Plan members. He is trying to analyze the state's savings from the project, which launched in January 2020. Members already have seen lower copayment costs, according to the project's details.