In an effort to reign in out-of-control health care prices, Connecticut lawmakers this week passed a cutting-edge bill giving the state the power to limit how much overall health care costs can grow and to hold providers and insurers accountable for rising rates. The legislation\u2019s passage comes on the heels of a Hearst Connecticut Media Group analysis of once-secret data that revealed how costs hospitals charge to insurers can vary wildly \u2013 sometimes by many thousands of dollars \u2013 for the same procedure. The bill, first proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont at the outset of the legislative session in February, will require hospitals, other medical providers and insurers to submit more such pricing data to the state office. The hope is that greater transparency will allow patients to better understand the cost options and employers to make better choices on behalf of their employees. \u201cPaying for health care is a black box,\u201d Lamont said, in response to questions from the newspaper group. \u201cIt\u2019s really complicated and a lot of people really don\u2019t know what they\u2019re paying for. The differentiation in terms of quality and cost is all over the map, the likes of which I don\u2019t see in any other industry.\u201d Once Lamont formally signs the bill, which he typically does in June, Connecticut will become just the fourth state to set so-called health care price benchmarks. The target will hold providers and insurers to a limit on how much they can increase prices, according to the state\u2019s Office of Health Strategy. That office will be responsible for setting the targets. It will hold public hearings for any providers and insurance companies that fail to meet the goals in order to apply public pressure, though the law lacks any monetary penalties. The governor\u2019s office put the bill forward as recent research from the Connecticut Health Foundation has shown close to one in five Connecticut households face health care costs that are unaffordable for their budget.\u00a0 Vicki Veltri, executive director of the Office of Health Strategy, said during a Friday press conference at UConn Health the benchmarking law will normalize prices for everyone, from employers to average people.\u00a0 \u201cWe don\u2019t believe that we\u2019re going to see an absolute reduction in spending over time,\u201d she said. \u201cThe goal of this initiative is to reduce the rate of spending growth.\u201d\u00a0 Her office said in a statement Friday the new data to be collected under the law will paint a clearer picture of what is driving up costs. "Concrete corrective action ... requires understanding of how high health care spending is, how it varies across the state, and what is driving spending growth," a spokeswoman said.\u00a0 But the bill also faces skepticism, with some experts questioning if the mechanisms for enforcing the benchmarks are strong enough. With the legislative session closed for the year as of Wednesday, some say lawmakers have more work to do in the years to come to address the already-high cost of health care, with varying opinions on how the problem should be addressed.\u00a0 One hope is that simply making the prices patients are exposed to more easily accessible will solve part of the problem. The federal government began requiring that hospitals disclose the rates they secretly negotiate with insurance companies in 2021 in order to ensure consumers \u201chave the information they need to make fully informed decisions regarding their health care.\u201d Beginning in July, health insurance companies will have to do the same.\u00a0 The government did not provide a way to compare prices across hospitals, however.\u00a0 So, Hearst Connecticut Media Group collected records from roughly 30 Connecticut hospitals, finding costs can range by many thousands of dollars depending on the hospital and which insurance plan is picking up the bill. Consumers end up picking up a portion of that amount depending on the details of their health plan.\u00a0 For example, Anthem has agreed to pay the St. Vincent\u2019s Medical Center in Bridgeport $10,988 for a C-section; the company negotiated a rate of about half that amount at the Bridgeport Hospital just three miles away.\u00a0 You can explore more hospital prices across the state at: bit.ly\/3EXrnUu. But experts and advocates agree consumers rarely comparison shop before seeking out health care. And controlling the variations in costs is a tall order, given they are negotiated between insurance companies and hospitals behind closed doors.\u00a0 Ellen Andrews, who leads the CT Health Policy Project, said consumers are willing to pay more if the higher price is attached to a better outcome.\u00a0 \u201cPrice variation by itself doesn't bother me. It's what it's linked to, and whether it\u2019s linked to some value,\u201d she said. But varying prices seem to be random and not tied to quality, Andrews said. Andrews was not a supporter of the governor\u2019s bill, citing concerns with lack of transparency during its drafting and arguments that the measure will actually increase costs to patients.\u00a0 Kathy Flaherty, executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, said fewer of the nonprofit\u2019s employees are opting to use its health insurance plan as costs have gone up and the level of coverage on the plan has gone down. The nonprofit\u2019s insurance company has imposed double-digit increases in premiums almost every year, she said. Flaherty said this same problem is affecting employers of all sizes, but especially small organizations.\u00a0 \u201cAt a certain point, people just aren't getting the care they need, and they're not getting it early enough because they can't afford it,\u201d she said.\u00a0 Flaherty noted this issue disproportionately affects people with psychiatric disabilities, who the Legal Rights Project advocates on behalf of.\u00a0 For example, the cost of a psychiatric evaluation at Danbury Hospital ranges from $64, when Medicaid pays, to $854 when a commercial insurer picks up the bill, according to the data Hearst Connecticut Media compiled.\u00a0 Jill Zorn, senior policy officer at the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, said in response to the newspaper group\u2019s data collection that it is clear insurance plans at times pay much more than is necessary to cover hospitals\u2019 costs. \u00a0 But those prices can feel irrelevant to patients once they have hit their deductible, Zorn said.\u00a0 \u201cWhere patients suffer from this might not be the actual bill that they got for something that happened to them,\u201d she said. \u201cWhere it does come back to haunt them is in the price of insurance, because all these high prices flow into the cost of care, which flows into how much insurance costs.\u201d\u00a0 Simply capping costs for procedures could have unintended consequences, however, as hospitals may cut more expensive services as a result. Zorn said other measures that passed through the legislature this session \u2014 such as one intended to slow down the clip of hospitals\u2019 consolidation \u2014 should also subtly work to bring down high prices. The Universal Health Care Foundation supported the cost benchmarking law, though Zorn said she is concerned it lacks \u201cteeth,\u201d and said public shaming may not be enough to convince hospitals to lower their prices. Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford and the Senate minority leader, said the Democratic majority have missed multiple opportunities to lower costs, both during the session that ended Wednesday and in the years before.\u00a0 \u201cHealth care continues to remain unaffordable in Connecticut, despite the fact that they have the power to fix it,\u201d he said.