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Friday, 05 August 2016 06:27

Costs of Hospital Procedures Are Almost Impossible to Find Online

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2016aug5 hospitalsWhy aren't hospital charges required to be posted online? (Photo: Michael Kappel)

Most people in the US cannot compare the costs of hospital medical procedures online, according to a recent study by the advocacy group Public Citizen. That is because in 44 states, there is no requirement to disclose the listed fee for hospital surgeries and diagnostic tests on the web. Official hospital prices vary widely -- even within a local area -- because often the "sticker price" for a colonoscopy, for example, is not established based on the inherent costs of the procedure. Instead, it is set high as a price from which to bargain down with insurance providers.

Veejay Das, health care policy advocate for Public Citizen, who conducted the analysis, said in a Public Citizen news release:

Shopping for health care prices in the United States is like trying to find a light switch in the dark. If you know where you should be looking – and it’s actually there for you to find – you might have a chance, but otherwise you’ll blindly search in vain.

For anyone who doesn't have insurance and must pay a full, inflated price for hospital-based care, comparative pricing is essential to reduce extreme costs. Yet, in most of the United States, that is an extremely difficult task to undertake.

Furthermore, Public Citizen notes:

Out-of-pocket health care costs for patients are soaring in the United States. Since 2010, insurance deductibles for workers have risen three times as fast as premiums and about seven times as fast as wages and inflation, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

That means it is necessary to know which hospitals are less expensive -- and to check with your insurance company for their negotiated rates for a given procedure with a hospital -- in order to plan for the financial repercussions of a medical bill.

Given that medical care -- particularly in-hospital surgery and diagnostic testing -- costs so much, and is often necessary for our survival, wouldn't it make sense to require hospitals to make their fees transparent?

Furthermore, Public Citizen found that even among the six states that require disclosure of charges for hospitals on the web, many of them have serious flaws. For example, consider what Public Citizen discovered about the Colorado and California websites concerning hospital fees:

Of the six states that give consumers a chance to compare medical prices, few provide adequate cost information for the most common procedures. For instance, Colorado does not make available price information for colonoscopies, CT scans of the head, hernia repair exams or MRIs of the brain.

California provides cost and quality data pertaining to five broad areas: childbirth care, hip and knee replacement, back pain, colon cancer screenings and diabetes treatment. Although it offers information for regions, it doesn’t offer it for individual providers.

When you look up a restaurant online, you most often can click the menu open and find out the prices of food offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, when trying to decide which hospital to choose for a multi-thousand-dollar procedure, few people in this country can easily access the price information they need.

Right now, the carnival of the 2016 presidential election is drowning out discussion of the major public policy decisions that this nation faces, such as how to provide equitable health care. For instance, there is a bill in Congress that would reduce -- for the government and Medicare patients -- the high cost of infusion drugs (chemotherapy, for instance) covered under Medicare Part B. With the exception of an article in USA Today, few corporate mainstream media outlets have covered how Big Pharma is conducting a full court press to defeat the legislation. The lack of news exposure about a law that can reduce healthcare costs is an example of how media coverage of the circus-like 2016 election tends to center on personality, gaffes, emails and incendiary statements, rather than issues that affect the daily lives of voters.

The Public Citizen study is a commendable resource that proves how far we have to go in reining in medical care costs through common sense laws that would make hospital cost information available to consumers. Meanwhile, the 2016 presidential race ineluctably continues, bypassing such crucial issues of public concern.

Not to be reposted without permission of Truthout.