Ohio health care transparency law blocked by judge decision

A permanent injunction has been granted against an Ohio health care price transparency law, following a two-year effort by medical industry groups to block the law from taking effect.

The law, championed by state Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, would have required health providers to provide an up-front good faith estimate of the cost of care, unless it was an emergency.

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Williams County Common Pleas Court Judge J.T. Stelzer stated in a decision filed Feb. 13 that the state of Ohio is “permanently enjoined from enforcing that portion of House Bill 52 which added the price transparency act.”

Butler said in a statement that in this context, a permanent injunction is not actually permanent “until all appeals run their course, and we’ve had plenty of time to prepare appeals.” He disputed the idea that the decision meant a meaningful finding of unconstitutionality.

Health care groups such as the Ohio Hospital Association had said the law would slow down patient care and be difficult to implement since they might not have access to health insurance information that would be needed to estimate the patient’s costs.

It was passed in 2016 as part of a larger budget bill but the law never went into effect. Ohio Hospital Association, Ohio State Medical Association and other health care industry groups promptly sued in Williams County Common Pleas Court the state of Ohio and Ohio Department of Medicaid over the law and got a temporary restraining order.

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The Kasich administration also did not create the rules needed to implement the law.

The recent court decision noted that House Bill 52 was intended to make changes to the workers compensation law and to make appropriations for the Bureau of Workers Compensation.

The entire legislative history of that bill had been about workers compensation, and when it passed both the house and senate, it contained no reference to health care price transparency. Then on June 25, 2015, with no hearings or prior introduction, the amendment was added with the price transparency act. The judge’s decision only blocks the portion of House Bill 52 that added the price transparency act.

The health care industry groups in their lawsuit claimed that the transparency amendment had nothing to do with workers compensation, so the process violated the Ohio constitution.

The Ohio Hospital Association said in a statement that the group is committed to “a price transparency approach that provides meaningful information to patients and is something that hospitals can comply with.”

“The law we challenged was completely unworkable for providers and we are pleased with the outcome of the court case. We look forward to having a productive dialogue with the legislature on this important issue,” the association said Wednesday.

The Ohio General Assembly had also considered an a different price transparency bill last session, this one with the support of the Ohio Hospital Association and several other provider groups.

State Sen. Stephen Huffman, R-Tipp City, said he plans to reintroduce the bill this session, which would have given patients more information up front and lets patients ask for a cost estimate seven days in advance. Huffman, a physician, said it is important to have a bigger discussion on health care transparency and a solution shouldn’t come as a budget item.

“We all agree in medicine and from a policy standpoint that we need health transparency but to what extent and what cost is what need to look at,” Huffman said.

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