May 23, 2019 - Health

Congress eyes federally funded medical claims research

A health care technician points to computer screens near a cardiac cath machine.

A technician works in a cardiac cath lab. Photo: Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

A new draft health care bill, released today in the Senate, would aim to build a better database of real-world records about health care costs.

Details: The federal government would pay a nonprofit $95 million over 6 years to build a database of medical claims, showing how much employers and insurers actually paid for care. Employers' claims data has long been considered a black box.

The nonprofit would have to produce reports, abide by strict protocols to keep the data secure and private, and make the data available to any company, researcher or entity who requests access, according to the draft bill text.

Driving the news: Employers have told legislators they want more access to this kind of data to make better purchasing decisions and see where they are overspending, and these kinds of claims databases have support across the political spectrum.

  • UnitedHealthcare's decision to stop providing data to the Health Care Cost Institute earlier this year served as an extra impetus to include this provision, according to a Senate staffer.

What we're watching: Hospitals and other providers likely won't be fans of this idea. They've benefited from keeping true prices hidden.

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