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I've been reading the latest amendments to the Senate health bill,
hunting for overlooked lobbyist time bombs in the fine print but
finding some reasons to hope as well. Of course, since the insurance
companies and medical industry killed the public option and a Medicare
buy-in for people over 55, they can just sit back and wait for millions
of new customers to be delivered to their gentle hands. Yet it's also
evident that the battle won't end when a bill is signed--and consumers
will at least have a big new source of ammo.

Throughout the bill,
there are requirements for insurance companies and health plans to
cough up all kinds of information, including:

  • Notice of rate
    increases, along with the corporate reasons for the increase (and
    states are invited to regulate these increases, which they should);
  • Data on how much customers will actually pay for their health coverage--meaning not just premiums but copays and deductibles;
  • Info on how often insurers deny medical treatment to their customers, and why
  • What
    insurers define as spending on "medical care" and "activities that
    improve health quality." Are they including the costs incurred in
    denying you that care? The cost of having employees lobby against
    reform?

All of this data and much more will have to be made public, not just for the industry as a whole but company by company.

Hospitals
have to let us peek behind their curtain by publishing their "standard"
rates. Is that like the MSRP on a car? At any rate, how long can the
$12 aspirin tablet survive the light of day? Especially since only the
uninsured had to pay those hospital list prices, which were secret
until the bill hit your mailbox.

Piles of studies on the effectiveness of treatments and drugs are called for.

The
industries will resist this sunshine like a flock of vampires. But
opening up the business end of insurance companies and the for-profit
hospital industry may be just as important as requiring insurance
companies to take all comers. Information could revolutionize
consumers' ability to demand more change. So first we'll have to demand
that the information pipeline not be narrowed as it's being built.