FAQ: Is there guidance concerning a recent requirement that health plans must disclose certain rate and billing information on a public website?

New transparency requirements include a mandate that health plans and health insurance issuers must disclose, on a public website, information regarding in-network rates and out-of-network allowed amounts and billed charges for covered items and services in two separate machine-readable files (MRFs).

The regulations define MRFs as files presented in a digital format that can be imported or read by a computer system for further processing without human intervention, while ensuring no semantic meaning is lost (such as JSON). Based on language in the final regulations, there is an expectation that researchers, legislators, regulators and application developers will compile the information into reports, studies and internet tools, so that it can more readily be used for price comparison purposes. In other words, the information provided may not be immediately understandable by the average layperson, but others may take that data and present it in ways that the average layperson can understand.

The requirement to publicly post the MRFs applies to the group health plan level. The plan sponsor must be sure that the files are on a site available to the general public, meaning not just employees, but regulators, industry groups, application developers, etc. Additionally, the files must be accessible and free of charge without having to establish a user account, password or other credentials, and without having to submit any personal identifying information such as a name, email address or telephone number. Beyond those requirements, the regulations state the sponsor has discretion as to the exact location on the public website, since they are in the best position to determine where the files will be most easily accessible by the intended users.

The regulations allow an insured plan to enter into a written agreement with the insurer to assume liability for the disclosures. Under such an agreement, the carrier would provide the required information and assume responsibility for maintaining and updating it as required under the regulations. Note that the regulations allow either a group health plan or an issuer to enter into an agreement with a third party (such as a TPA) to provide and maintain the required information; however, the responsibility remains with the group health plan or the issuer if the third party fails to perform.