Down With Black Box Pricing!

Why do we allow some of our most important industries to hide their prices?

George Dillard
6 min readAug 30


Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Imagine you’re in the grocery store to pick up some eggs. When you get to the aisle, the eggs don’t have a conventional price tag. Instead, the sign under them says “price TBD.” You ask an employee if she can give you some guidance as to what the eggs will cost, and she shrugs.

You arrive at the checkout with your dozen eggs. There’s someone in front of you, also buying eggs. They cost him $1.99. Not bad, you think. The person at the checkout next to you pays $9.74. Yikes! You grit your teeth, unsure of what your eggs will cost. Your eggs ring up at $6.72. You pay the amount, fairly certain that you just got screwed over.

Welcome to black box pricing, the way we pay for some of the most important and expensive things in America. If you wouldn’t put up with this when purchasing eggs, why should we put up with it when buying health care and education?

I took my dog to the vet for a checkup a while back. She’s getting old, and she had a lump on her belly that concerned me. I asked the vet to check it out. She said, “Sure, I can take a little sample with a syringe. It will take a few minutes to look at it under a microscope. That’ll be an extra $25.”

She sampled and investigated the lump — it was a harmless fatty tumor, thank goodness — and we were soon on our way.

That visit was a simple, straightforward interaction, but I found it to be close to miraculous. A medical procedure for which the price — a quite reasonable one, at that — was clearly communicated to me before the procedure took place? Amazing!

If this had been a human doctor, I wouldn’t have had anything like that kind of clarity.

Soon after, I noticed a little spot on my face that concerned me. I went to the dermatologist to have it checked out.

Well, I wish it was that simple. First, I had to go to my primary care doctor, whose permission I needed to get an appointment with the dermatologist without waiting many months. I was in the office for less than 10 minutes, and the visit consisted of him looking at my face for a few seconds and saying, “Yep, you should see the dermatologist for…



George Dillard

Exploring the past to illuminate politics, the environment, and more. Social media & other projects: Email: whfacts at