Dec 26, 2018 / By: Kaitlin Schroeder, Journal-News.com
Prices hospitals charge for their services will all go online Jan. 1 under a new federal requirement, but patient advocates say the realities of medical-industry pricing will make it difficult for consumers to get much out of the new data.
A federal rule requires all hospitals to post online a master list of prices for the services they provide so consumers can review them starting Jan. 1.
The health care industry nationally has a reputation for having little price transparency, which can make it difficult for consumers to price compare. But the hospital’s master list prices, sometimes called a chargemaster, is also not a complete look, consumer advocates say.
That’s because the final bill a patient receives is almost never the same as the sticker price for the services they received. Insurance companies negotiate discounts on the sticker prices. Co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles also add other layers of complexity that bring discounts or increased costs before a final charge is determined.
“The list prices are so high that the vast majority of hospitals don’t even try to collect list prices from uninsured patients,” said Benedic Ippolito, with the American Enterprise Institute, who has researched hospital list prices.
The federal rule is being brought out as a measure to improve competition and help educate consumers.
“We are just beginning on price transparency,” Seema Verma, head of U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid told the Associated Press. “We know that hospitals have this information and we’re asking them to post what they have online.”
But real transparency comes when consumers can easily see what they will pay to a provider based on their insurance benefits, said Thomas Campanella, Baldwin Wallace University health care MBA program director. He said some insurance companies are providing that information through price comparison tools.
“I almost see it being more of a political ‘look at what we did,’” Campanella said of the requirement to post list prices.
Kettering Health Network, which has eight hospitals in the Dayton, Ohio area, said the chargemaster will be posted on its patient pricing webpage after Jan. 1. Premier Health, which has three hospitals in the same region, said the information will be on its hospitals’ websites by Jan. 1. and consumers will find the list of charges where they currently find other pricing, insurance and billing information.
Photo: Nick Graham/Staff