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Originally published December 21, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Page modified December 21, 2013 at 10:14 PM

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Editorial: 2014 is a time for health-care transparency

Consumers want and need more information about the costs and realities of health care; issues great and small, insights and legislation.

Seattle Times Editorial

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ROLLING back the mysteries surrounding health care quality, costs and access to care might be among the biggest consumer issues of 2014.

Legislatures in Olympia and across the U.S. have been asked to expand public information about health care, with the operative word being transparency.

States have legal requirements for sharing information among health-care providers, but not always for the broadest base of consumer use.

In national surveys, Washington earned top marks for transparency on physician quality, but a failing grade on health-care price transparency. The state has received a federal grant to promote remedial action, including legislation.

Health care is expensive, and the troubled launch of the federal Affordable Care Act made citizens all the more aware of the personal investment of time and effort required to make the health-care system work for them.

More responsibility for health-care choices is falling on consumers and they need access to information.

Consumers have allies in the Washington Health Alliance and nationally via the National Committee for Quality Assurance. They are pushing for more data to be made available, and helping the rest of us understand and decipher it.

Bringing down the cost of health care means empowering consumers to make informed decisions, and to help sort out any confusion about the relationship between cost and quality. More expensive health care does not mean better health care.

Consumer information takes all forms, but it must speak to getting the best information, and having it put in an understandable context.

For example, the British drug company GlaxoSmithKline will stop paying doctors to promote its products, The New York Times reported. And Glaxo’s sales representatives will not be paid based on the number of prescriptions doctors write.

Sounds like an improvement, but a Washington, D.C.,-based watchdog, Public Citizen Health Research Group quickly noted Glaxo will continue paying some physicians for “market research” and “advisory activities.”

What is the public to think when a leading proponent for the recognition and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) calls U.S. diagnosis rates “a national disaster of dangerous proportions?” The number of children on prescription medication is astronomical.

Health consumers need information. The Federal Drug Administration is in a lather over the advertised merits of hand sanitizers, and wants proof. Even old assumptions are under scrutiny about the health value of daily vitamin supplements.

Health care transparency covers lots of medical turf, and ordinary citizens paying the overhead need access to honest facts and figures.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Lynne K. Varner, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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