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Patients need more information

A recent Sun article provided a good summary of the enormous variations in hospital costs around Maryland and raised important questions for health care consumers ("Hospital rates vary greatly in Maryland," Dec. 6).

People needing medical care can be confused or overwhelmed as they seek the right place and person to provide care. The article included a suggestion from a major health insurer that patients should turn to their primary care provider for help finding the right hospital.

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The problem is that many people in Maryland — in both rural areas and underserved urban communities — lack access to reliable primary care. And as documented in a recent report from our organization, the information on providers available to those purchasing Qualified Health Plans on an online directory is often incomplete, misleading or inaccurate. We are pleased that steps are under way to address some of the issues.

However, there is a broader issue. Consumers need more and better information to fully engage them in how to traverse the complex health care system and to make the best decisions about their care. That includes providing the public with information about the resources that are currently available to them about hospital costs and quality.

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Furthermore, state health agencies should launch a coordinated public awareness campaign focused on helping Marylanders lead healthier lives and educating them about how and where to get the right care for themselves and their families.

The dizzying differences in hospital costs reminds us again of how challenging it is to understand and navigate our health care system. It's time to do a better job of helping all Marylanders better address that challenge and to encourage them to become health care aware consumers.

Leni Preston, Bethesda

The writer is chair of Maryland Women's Coalition for Health Care Reform.

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