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Public Opinion About Costs And Transparency: Learning From Massachusetts


December 28th, 2012
by Katherine Hempstead

Americans tend to blame rising health care costs on various “bad actors” — insurance companies, drugmakers, and others who overcharge their customers. But two polls conducted earlier this year suggest that, if views about health care costs in Massachusetts predict trends in national public opinion, policymakers may find the public increasingly receptive to using price transparency to control health care costs.

Price transparency is increasingly being discussed as an important mechanism to reduce health care costs. The recent Massachusetts cost containment bill had a number of provisions related to transparency, and there have recently been calls for national cost containment measures which would also address price transparency issues.

Massachusetts has long been an outlier in the area of health policy, as the state most notably enacted comprehensive health reform in 2006, and recently passed an ambitious package of cost containment measures. The residents of Massachusetts have had a unique experience with health reform, which has included an expanded role of government in the health care sector as well as a greater level of public discourse about cost containment.

Although Massachusetts differs from the rest of the nation in many ways, these experiences may have shaped public opinion about health costs. (See Oakman TS, Blendon R, & Buhr T, “The Massachusetts health reform law: A case study”, in Blendon R, Brodie M, Benson JM, Altman DE, eds., American Public Opinion and Health Care, Washington DC: CQ Press, 2011, p.128.) Massachusetts residents may well be more knowledgeable about health costs as compared with the rest of the country. To the extent to which Massachusetts is a national leader in the area of health policy, public opinion and party positions in the state may anticipate those of the nation as a whole.

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