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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Adding more transparency to the health care system's secretive pricing structure is a bipartisan idea that's gotten a lot of interest in Congress and from the Trump administration.

Yes, but: Some experts say transparency alone probably won't do much to lower costs, and could even end up backfiring.

Driving the news: The Trump administration is expected to soon release an executive order mandating the disclosure of health care prices, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

  • A new bipartisan Senate bill on health costs also includes several transparency measures.
  • The Health & Human Services Department is also requiring drug companies to include their products' list prices in their TV ads.

What they're saying: Critics argue that the industy's secretive pricing practices support its own bottom line at patients' expense, and causes wild discrepancies in what the same service costs in different places.

  • A recent RAND study found that private insurance plans pay hospitals, on average, 241% of what Medicare pays for the same services — and those rates vary widely from hospital to hospital.

The other side: More transparency could still end up being relatively useless for patients, experts said.

  • "In many cases, patients don’t necessarily know in advance what’s wrong with them and what care they’re going to need, so they don’t know what prices to ask for," the Kaiser Family Foundation's Larry Levitt said.
  • There's evidence that patients don't use the tools already available to them to shop around. And even the prices that providers have negotiated with insurers — which are valuable trade secrets for both industries — don't tell patients their actual costs.
  • "Knowing the underlying cost of a service or drug is unlikely to influence their decision ... since they aren’t paying that price to begin with," Avalere's Chris Sloan said.

Transparency could even lead to higher prices, as providers see what their competitors are getting.

  • "Knowing what concessions everyone is getting or giving can often mean that the low price in the market serves as a floor, rather than a ceiling, in future negotiations and that leads to higher prices over the long term," Sloan added.

The bottom line: At the least, more pricing information could help empower future policymakers.

  • "You’re going to see this jagged mountain range of pricing in the private sector, and it’s going to be pretty darn hard for people to justify it," said John Bardis, a former Trump administration health official. "This is what those who have benefited from opaque pricing practices don’t want to see, because it’s just not defensible.”

Go deeper

European Super League faces collapse after English soccer teams quit

Fans of Chelsea Football Club protest the European Super League outside Stamford Bridge soccer stadium in London, England. Photo: Rob Pinney/Getty Images

The European Super League announced in a statement Tuesday night it's "proposing a new competition" and considering the next steps after all six English soccer clubs pulled out of the breakaway tournament.

Why it matters: The announcement that 12 of the richest clubs in England, Spain and Italy would start a new league was met with backlash from fans, soccer stars and politicians. The British government had threatened to pass legislation to stop it from going ahead.

Corporate America finds downside to politics

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Corporate America is finding it can get messy when it steps into politics.

Why it matters: Urged on by shareholders, employees and its own company creeds, Big Business is taking increasing stands on controversial political issues during recent months — and now it's beginning to see the fallout.

Church groups say they can help the government more at border

A mural inside of Casa del Refugiado in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Stef Kight/Axios

Despite the separation between church and state, the federal government depends upon religious shelters to help it cope with migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Why it matters: The network supports the U.S. in times of crisis, but now some shelter leaders are complaining about expelling families to Mexico when they have capacity — and feel a higher calling — to accommodate them.