Providers want to discuss prices with patients, but obstacles stand in their way

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Providers must be more proactive in discussing the cost of healthcare with their patients, according to MedPage Today, which delved into the subject as part of a recent series.

"It's much easier to prevent medical debt than it is to dig someone out of debt," Yousuf Zafar, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina, told MedPage Today.  

But many physicians said it's difficult obtaining clear pricing information for patients. "Unfortunately, the primary care physician or any referring physician is likely to be clueless about the charges coming from the facilities to which he refers," said Stephen Rakower, M.D., a retired surgeon in Newport Beach, California, adding that if was still practicing, he would initiate conversations with patients and conduct follow-up as well. 

The lack of price transparency in healthcare is a nationwide problem. A recent survey by the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute and Catalyst for Payment Reform concluded that only five of 50 states provide enough pricing data to allow consumers to shop. And even in Massachusetts, which more or less has mandated price transparency through insurers, patients can still struggle to obtain prices.

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