The GAO recently examined the effectiveness of health cost and quality transparency tools available to consumers, including two private consumer health cost/quality websites and CMS “Compare” databases. The GAO determined that the CMS tools — Nursing Home Compare, Dialysis Facility Compare, Home Health Compare, Hospital Compare and Physician Compare — are limited in their provision of relevant and understandable consumer cost and quality information. For instance, the sites do not allow consumers to combine cost and quality information to assess the value of health care services or anticipate costs, and the sites lack clarity in how information is presented to consumers. The GAO also charges that CMS's process for developing and selecting cost and quality measures included in the Compare sites “has been heavily influenced by the concerns of providers rather than consumers.” With regard to the private sites, the GAO notes that the private consumer sites suggest a wide range of provider costs for the same service in the same geographic area, regardless of quality.

The GAO recommends that CMS take steps to improve the information in its transparency tools and develop procedures and metrics to ensure that tools address consumers' needs. For instance, the GAO suggests that the CMS Compare websites include, to the extent feasible, estimated out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries for common treatments that can be planned in advance, and allow consumers to customize information presented.  For more information, see the full report, “Health Care Transparency: Actions Needed to Improve Cost and Quality Information for Consumers.”