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Utah Senate committee endorses bill that would help people compare medical prices

The rotunda of the Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. As the first week of the 2019 legislative session wraps up, Utah senators are closing in on a final vote in their chamber on Medicaid expansion that alters the voter-approv
FILE - The rotunda of the Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Residents in Utah want more transparency when it comes to what they're paying for in health care, and Sen. Todd Weiler is pushing a bill that he says can do that.

SB229 would allow the private sector to access aggregated state medical records, enabling residents to compare procedure prices, said Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

According to the senator, one of his constituents has been trying for the past few years to get access to health data from the state without success. That constituent wants to build a website that would allow people to "competitive shop" for their medical expenses.

In following privacy laws, no names or dates would be provided in the raw data, Weiler said, but residents could potentially see average costs of services in certain areas.

Though there are a lot of factors that go into a surgery's cost — including an individual's health — the information could, for example, help people know to ask their doctors why the cost of a procedure is higher than average.

"At least I've been empowered to now know what the average is," Weiler explained.

Some on the Senate Health and Services Committee expressed concerns with the bill Tuesday.

Sen. Evan J. Vickers, R-Cedar City, asked whether the information could create the risk of people tapping into the private data of others.

Weiler said because the data would only show averages, the risk of privacy breaches would be "close to zero."

Sen. David G. Buxton, R-Roy, questioned whether that availability will force the price of medicine down to the "price of the guy who can do it the cheapest."

"But he may not be the quality guy," Buxton said.

"This isn't that much different than buying a new car. … I think that type of transparency, it may not be welcomed by everyone, but I think that's what our constituents want," Weiler explained.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, praised the bill.

"I like the transparency. People want transparency," she said.

The bill received a favorable recommendation from the committee and moves to the full Senate.