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Power of Price: Health Care & Health Costs

Listen to the full hour of the Sunshine Economy's Nov. 17 edition.

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Does this sound like a top health care CEO?

Or this?

Those are the comments of Baptist Health South Florida CEO Brian Keeley. Baptist Health is the largest faith-based non-profit health system in South Florida. It delivers $2 billion of health care to South Florida through seven hospitals, more than a dozen urgent care centers and various other specialty health centers. The Baptist business has more than 1,700 beds and serves more than 1 million patients per year. Keeley has been with Baptist for more than 30 years.

Baptist Health South Florida CEO Brian Keeley.
Credit Baptist Health South Florida
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Baptist Health South Florida CEO Brian Keeley.

He doesn't defend the upward spiral of higher health costs. He acknowledges the confounding and complicated pricing of health care. He's a big proponent of qualitative rankings - not simply price differences - between providers.

WLRN and the Miami Herald explored the power of price in health care in this series, examining the complexity, secrecy and cost of a health care system under strain. 

Here's how Floridians get their health care coverage according to the Kaiser Family Foundation:

The price hikes of medical care have slowed down. That's good news for patients. However, medical care costs continue rising much faster than overall inflation.  Even in the most recent years where medical costs have risen at their slowest rates in years, they still have been rising at about twice the pace of inflation without medical costs.

"We have an extremely complex and convoluted system of pricing. I would challenge anybody to tell me that they fully understand it," said Baptist Health South Florida CEO Brian Keeley.

Keeley said Baptist's charge list includes more than 100,000 different charges. The different payers for health care such as Medicare, Medicaid, managed care companies and others have different methods of payment adding to the confusion for patients.  This led Baptist to opening a Central Pricing Office in 2001, he said "to help consumers understand what is their out-of-pocket cost? How much are they going to have to pay out of their own pocket to have a procedure?"

While Baptist's Central Pricing Office also gives a discounted price to uninsured patients, it will not disclose the entire charge of a procedure. An insured patient may be able to know what a treatment will cost them based upon their insurance plan's deductible and co-pays but the price negotiated between the hospital and the insurance carrier remains secret, often behind non-disclosure agreements. Access to those negotiated prices is what insurance premiums provide the insured.

"That's not unusual," said Keeley. "When you look at the Boeing's of the world, do they show all their pricing to all their subcontractors and vendors? Obviously they don't."  He continued, "There's never a discussion 'Let's increase the premiums.' There's never that discussion."

Here's what the average company-based health insurance plan cost employees and their employers in 2012 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation:

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Power of Price: Health Care & Health Costs

Power of Price: Health Care & Health Costs