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Now hospitals must post prices online, how is that working out?

by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter | January 16, 2019
On January 1, 2019, hospitals were required to post prices online, in the name of full disclosure, and so that the “healthcare consumer,” aka patients, could shop around for the best deals. The list posted by institutions is called a “chargemaster.”

But there is a rub with such a list. “I don't think it's very helpful,” Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management, told CNN recently. “There are about 30,000 different items on a chargemaster file. As a patient, you don't know which ones you will use.”

The lists are part of a push by the Trump administration to reform healthcare. In a speech in July, 2018, CMS Administrator Seema Verma laid out its goals as follows:

“This administration is guided by four pillars; empowering patients, increasing competition, realigning incentives, and reducing barriers to value-driven care. As we transition to a system that delivers value to patients, we must start at the basic level of the interaction that a patient experiences when walking into a doctor’s office. We must cater to the needs of the patient, not providers.

“Our goal is to activate the most powerful force in our healthcare system for creating value: the patient.

“We will transform the individual patient into a consumer of healthcare – one that is empowered to shop for the provider that delivers the best care at the lowest price. As the American patient is seeking care, they will seek providers that deliver innovative, transformative care, those that leverage the technological efficiencies that we have seen from other industries. But in order for patients to become consumers of healthcare they must have transparency in pricing and in outcomes, so that they can shop for quality and value.”

Unfortunately, now that hospitals have posted prices, the result appears to be less transparent than hoped for.

A recent New York Times article shared a number of examples of the results of this public price-posting policy.

“Vanderbilt University Medical Center, responding to a new Trump administration order to begin posting all hospital prices, listed a charge of $42,569 for a cardiology procedure described as HC PTC CLOS PAT DUCT ART.

“Baptist Health in Miami helpfully told consumers that an “Embolza Protect 5.5” would cost them $9,818 while a “Visceral selective angio rad” runs a mere $5,538.”

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