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Friday, January 25, 2019

Transparent Hospital Pricing Exposes Wild Fluctuation, Even Within Miles | California Healthline

The federal government’s new rule requiring hospitals to post prices for their services is intended to allow patients to shop around and compare prices, a step toward price transparency that California has mandated since 2005.

California Healthline examined the price lists — known in hospital lingo as “chargemasters” — of four large acute care hospitals in Oakland, Calif., and another four in Los Angeles, using the documents California hospitals have been reporting annually to the California Department of Public Health — the same information the federal government is now requiring all hospitals to post on their websites.
The comparison of some basic procedures found wide-ranging prices, sometimes between hospitals that are part of the same network or located just miles from each other. For instance, the list price on a liter of basic saline solution for intravenous use ranged from $56 to $383, nearly seven times as much. A brain MRI with contrast was priced from $3,200 to $8,800 at the hospitals.

While more information is always welcome, the new data will fall short of providing most consumers with usable insight.
That’s because the price lists displayed this week, called chargemasters, are massive compendiums of the prices set by each hospital for every service or drug a patient might encounter. To figure out what, for example, a trip to the emergency room might cost, a patient would have to locate and piece together the price for each component of their visit — the particular blood tests, the particular medicines dispensed, the facility fee and the physician’s charge, and more.
“I don’t think it’s very helpful,” said Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management. “There are about 30,000 different items on a chargemaster file. As a patient, you don’t know which ones you will use.”
And there’s this: Other than the uninsured and people who are out-of-network, few actually pay full charges.Whether you will be able to determine the best prices when you have a need for a hospital is another question. KHN senior correspondent Julie Appleby and California Healthline’s Barbara Feder Ostrov recently wrote about this new rule and found price lists befuddling to most anyone without an advanced medical degree.

Transparent Hospital Pricing Exposes Wild Fluctuation, Even Within Miles | California Healthline: A new federal rule requires hospitals to post their prices online. These lists reveal the wildly different charges for basic procedures and services, but consumers will have a hard time putting this information to use.

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