In the spirit of protecting patients, hospitals began posting their list of charges online in January 2019 (per the Public Health Service Act enacted by the Affordable Care Act). Sounds like a simple thing to do, but consider the numerous services and items hospitals provide: diagnostic procedures, physician consultations, surgeries, treatments, medication, and supplies, to name a few. It gets even more complicated when the scope of difficulty or duration of a surgical procedure or treatment is factored into the equation. Also, there are great variations between various hospital’s pricing—some may charge double what the others do for the same procedure. Imagine how this can affect the ability to have a good understanding of hospital bills. It is this issue, the disparity in hospital pricing, and a lack of desire to make charges known to the public before rather than after treatment which causes confusion surrounding hospital fee transparency and problems for the average consumer. Creating greater awareness of the issues about hospital pricing transparency could help individuals minimize or avoid unnecessary serious financial repercussions.

            Hospital fee transparency is meant to help consumers calculate medical costs to assess a treatment’s affordability. Sounds great in principle, but is it feasible in practice? Would you know what is needed in a surgical procedure and hospital stay? Most likely, you would not know. So how is the average consumer expected to calculate an approximate cost based upon reviewing a list of hospital fees? A hospital price list, known as a “Chargemaster,” can be as short as four pages, but more likely several hundred. On top of this, the information is often not alphabetized or categorized by subject. Some hospitals even use codes which are indecipherable to anyone but themselves. While the list of charges is meant to educate, more often than not, it is a confusing mess. Essentially, a Federal statute was passed—and hospitals complied. However, the statute neglected to mandate posting the information in a manner that is comprehensible by the patient. So, while there are Chargemaster posted, they are essentially useless—as the information they contain is not decipherable.

Advocates of fee transparency comment that the program is new and can be seen as a step towards informing consumers. However, according to a February 15, 2019, article in the Florida Phoenix: “Hospitals have some leeway in deciding how to present the information — and currently there is no penalty for failing to post.”

            With the mid-year mark having passed since the mandated public disclosure, it is possible to analyze the information being provided by hospitals. In its July 2019 issue, The National Law Review raised some problematic issues about the information released by medical facilities:

  • Patient specific variability affecting cost is not included
  • Variances in health plan coverage costs and out-of-pocket expenses and out-of-network bills are not provided
  • Nonexistence of requirements specifying how to format data for public consumption

 

            The success of hospital fee transparency is not just a matter of providing the consumer with clear and concise information, it is also about accomplishing specific goals. The New England of Journal Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst explored the topic of price transparency last year in an article which posited that the efficacy of price transparency depends on the success of meeting the following four goals:

  • Help patients make informed decisions;
  • Enable comparative price shopping;
  • Facilitate affordable care; and
  • Create pressure to reduce pricing.

 

                While the value of posting hospital fees online (in the current manner) is questionable, given the complexity of the pricing, it does expose the random variability and exorbitant differences in pricing among medical facilities. The embarrassment over these disparities could serve as a catalyst for change and motivate some institutions to reconsider their fee structure. Then again, one cannot shame the shameless into doing the right thing. The more light shone on this cloaked pricing information, the greater the benefit to the public. Many have called for further legislation concerning the form and manner in which such information is posted. This could then begin some momentum towards positive healthcare reform in pricing which might stimulate further useful change.

Human Health Advocates, LLC, located in Boca Raton Florida, serves clients both statewide and throughout the nation. It is a very highly reviewed entity, affiliated with the Better Business Bureau. Its members are Board-Certified Patient Advocates; specializing in medical debt reduction. If you are having difficulty understanding or managing your medical bills and/or health insurance Explanation of Benefits (EOB’s), reach out…..get help…..contact one of our Board-Certified Patient Advocates at Human Health Advocates. We review medical bills and health insurance determinations, locating errors in providers’ charges and processing.  We prepare insurance appeals for denied claims. We negotiate reductions in your medical debt from hospitals and other medical providers. If you have problems with your medical bills or health insurance, get in touch. WE CAN HELP!

By Guest Blogger: Mary Ann Mace