You walk into the dealership looking for the car of your dreams. You find the right model – including a number of pricy options. You sign on the dotted line and drive off in your new car.
The only problem? You won’t know the price of the car until weeks – or even months –later.
Does this sound insane? Maybe so, but it’s how hospitals have been dealing with patients for decades.
A patchwork of state laws let some people learn the cost of their hospital procedure. But it wasn’t until January 1, 2019 that all hospitals had to publish their fees. And their response to the new law hasn’t made the situation much better.
Here’s what you need to know about how to get the best treatment for the best price.
One of the Best-Kept Secrets of Obamacare
When the Affordable Care Act passed, it included a clause requiring hospitals to post fee schedules online. For the first time, all hospitals had to reveal pricing.
Before that, hospitals had to make pricing available on request. But who knew to ask? Hospital prices were always a matter between the hospital and your insurance company. If you had one.
As of Jan. 1, 2019, all hospitals must publish their fees for. And in a format patients can download.
Of course, that’s not necessarily helpful. For instance, what’s an “NJ, ANE AGENT, INTERCOS SNGL?” I couldn’t tell you, but it costs $1,399 at George Washington University Hospital in D.C.
Some descriptions are confusing, Others are easier to figure out. For example, San Jose’s Mercury News compared at least some services.
A chest x-ray at Highland Hospital, they found, is just $131. At the nearby University of California San Francisco, the same service is a whopping $2,618.
If you have no insurance, you could save more than $2,000 just by traveling a few extra miles.
Of course, many hospitals aren’t making price comparisons any easier than they have to.
There are difficult descriptions like “NJ, ANE AGENT, INTERCOS SNGL. And many hospitals bury prices in hard-to-find corners of their websites.
Some prices are confusing. At the University of California San Francisco Medical center, the price for delivering a baby is $5,497. But the Mercury News reports “vaginal delivery without complicating diagnoses” – which seems to be the same thing – costs $53,194.
Clarity seems to be in short supply.
The Affordable Care Act aimed to make pricing more transparent. But hospitals have found ways to make it more confusing.
Creating Pricing Confusion
Some hospitals seem determined to keep prices confusing. Besides using vague descriptions, many post pricing so deep in their web sites.
Hospital lobbying groups also cite charity cases, negotiated insurance rates, and other exceptions as a reason they can’t give accurate numbers. Of course, these groups always reference possible discounts… and not the high charges applied to those without insurance.
“A hospital’s charges are not as relevant to a patient,” one executive noted, “because the patient’s bill may be significantly discounted or the services are provided at no charge under the hospital’s charity policy.”
This sounds great, but experience suggests discounts apply to patients covered by insurance. Uninsured patients may be able to negotiate payments… but the high published rates are more likely to apply to them than those with insurance.
If you can’t find a hospital’s rates listed on its website, don’t panic. As I said, many hospitals make this information hard to find. If you have a problem finding the info, call them. They have to tell you where they’ve hidden this information.
Then use it to compare them to other hospitals in your area. Even better, use these two databases to ensure you get the best value for your healthcare dollar…
Get More Value for the Money You Spend
Start by checking your healthcare provider‘s hospital against the competition The best place to do this is Hospital Compare.
You can also use U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospital” rankings as a backup.
U.S. News uses consumer feedback to identify the best hospitals by specialty. Statistically speaking, U.S. News can show the way to go
You’ll find the U. S. News numbers at https://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/rankings.
Between the two, you should be able to find the best option. Even if your local hospital tries to hide its pricing.
Keep in mind, if you have insurance, your cost will probably be far less than the listed price. And with the quality numbers available, you can select the best option for almost any hospital service.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
Uria, D., “Hospitals now must list medical costs for patients, but clarity is elusive,” UPI. Jan 16, 2019.
Woolfolk, J. and Bartley, K., “Hospitals must now post their prices online: $7 for 5-cent aspirin?” MercuryNews.com. Jan 6, 2019.
Hospital Compare. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Oct 2018.
“2018 Hospital Rankings by Specialty,” USNews.com.
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