HELENA – The Montana House Thursday narrowly endorsed a bill to create a statewide database on health care costs, which its supporters said will help the state manage and perhaps reduce rising health care costs.
“Health care costs are consuming more and more of our economic picture and we’re getting, in some respects, not what we pay for,” said Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, the sponsor of the bill. “(This) allows Montana to identify areas where there are wasteful health care spending and insight on how to manage health care plans.”
The House voted 54-46 to endorse House Bill 489, as 15 Republicans joined all 39 of the chamber’s Democrats to support the measure.
House members then forwarded HB489 to the House Appropriations Committee for further review. The committee will consider how the bill and its $1.7 million price-tag may fit into the state’s overall budget.
HB489 appropriates state money to build the database and operate it for the next two years – although the measure was amended to allow federal grants or other sources of money to fund the project, if possible.
The database would be compiled from medical claims information provided by health insurers and the state, which spends more than $1 billion a year on health care programs.
Hunter said the database would provide many types of information on health care costs.
For example, it could identify which providers charge consistently higher, or lower, fees for the same service, show how costs are shifted from one group of consumers to the other, or whether high-deductible insurance plans lead to less or more preventive care, he said.
“It allows us to analyze what’s really going on in health care … and allows us to get to what the root causes are (for increases),” Hunter said.
Opponents questioned whether the database would really lead to lower health care costs, but most said the government shouldn’t be involved in collecting such information.
“I’m concerned about my Social Security number being included in one more database,” said Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helmville.
Yet others asked how the state could expect to control health care costs if it doesn’t track and analyze its multimillion-dollar expenses, and said any successful private business would do the same.
“If you really believe government should be run like a business, you should support this bill,” said Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad. “These are the tools that a business uses to save money. You analyze costs, you track spending, and you make improvements in the system to save money.”