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How to Make the Health-Care Market Work Better

Price transparency can save both money and lives.

How could government help the health-care market work better? Here's an idea so obvious it's shocking it hasn't already been done: Let's require large hospitals and medical providers who receive dollars from Medicare, Medicaid or federal research grants to collect and publish basic price data.

For every conceivable medical problem, there's something the insurance industry calls a "medical billing code" listed in the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD. Behind every conceivable medical service in a hospital, there's an associated fee in another volume, the "chargemaster." And providers have years of accounting figures filed away.