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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

Scoop: Former OMB director to set up Pro-Trump think tanks

OMB Director Russ Vought parfticipates in a photo-op for the printing of President Donald Trumps budget for Fiscal Year 2020 at the Government Publishing Office in Washington on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Russ Vought, who led Donald Trump's Office of Management and Budget, plans to announce two pro-Trump organizations Tuesday, aiming to provide the ideological ammunition to sustain Trump's political movement after his departure from the White House.

Why it matters: The Center for American Restoration and an advocacy arm, America Restoration Action, will try to keep cultural issues that animated Trump’s presidency on the public agenda, according to people familiar with the matter.

Janet Yellen confirmed as Treasury secretary

Janet Yellen. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary on Monday.

Why it matters: Yellen is the first woman to serve as Treasury secretary, a Cabinet position that will be crucial in helping steer the country out of the pandemic-induced economic crisis.

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4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Scoop: Red Sox strike out on deal to go public

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The parent company of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. has ended talks to sell a minority ownership stake to RedBall Acquisition, a SPAC formed by longtime baseball executive Billy Beane and investor Gerry Cardinale, Axios has learned from multiple sources. An alternative investment, structured more like private equity, remains possible.

Why it matters: Red Sox fans won't be able to buy stock in the team any time soon.