Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said he likes the concept of more transparency, but suggested Mr. Trump's order won't be forceful enough if it just shines light on a high-price status quo. More efficient hospitals could "essentially use this information to say, if you want to save money on this care, come to us", he said.
"This is a big action", Trump said during the signing at the White House. People have no idea how big it is.
Many health care prices are veiled behind contracts between hospitals and insurers.
The order has already received strong pushback from both health insurers and hospitals who say that the backdoor negotiations between the two groups should remain secret.
The executive order calls for a rule-making process by federal agencies, which won't happen straight away.
The Trump administration has advocated for bringing down health care costs by making prices more visible, boosting competition and reducing regulation.
He railed about the Affordable Care Act - which Republicans unsuccessfully tried to dismantle - in his remarks. The second, in October 2017, directed officials to foster low-priced types of insurance allowed to skirt the ACA's required benefits and consumer protections.
A senior administration official at the press briefing said details about whether the rates would be aggregated or relate to individual hospitals would be spelled out only when the administration puts forward proposed rules to implement the order later this year.
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"We are saying you have the right to have an estimate of the information before you get the service... rather than after the fact when it does you no darn good", the source told the publication.
The new executive order goes significantly further than earlier proposals in attempting to make privately negotiated rates public. But the order will also call for a public database of anonymous insurance claims information, with protections to keep individual patient information private. As "pricing becomes more transparent", he said, "patients will shift their buying decisions to lower-cost, higher-quality providers delivering a better experience". An experiment underway in Colorado is set to reduce insurance premiums in the mountain county of Summit next year, after large government and employer health plans chose to negotiate prices directly with the local hospital. It asks the federal government to draft rules requiring hospitals and insurers to post prices in a way that is easy for consumers to access.
Matt Eyles, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry's main trade group, said it supports the notion that patients should have accurate, real-time information about costs so they can make informed decisions about their care.
The health insurance lobby has pushed back at disclosing rates it negotiates with hospitals, deeming it proprietary information. Few people actually pay the list prices, which can be multiples higher than insurers' contracted rates.
The policy does have natural appeal from a consumer standpoint, experts said. "Under my administration, we will not let that happen". You trust the person they tell you you should go see.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar touted the president's directive as a way to "put American patients in control and address the fundamental drivers of high American health-care costs in a way that no president has ever done before".
"It's hard to justify a system where patients can't know in advance what they're going to have to pay for health care", tweeted Larry Levitt, senior vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation.