People seeking medical attention are often left with a bill at the end of their treatment at a hospital, which consists of a list of costs they didn’t know they were incurring. New legislation, however, will see that change from January 1.
On New Year’s Day, the U.S. will wake up to what is supposed to be a transparent list of prices from all hospitals in the country, according to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. From Tuesday, the new federal rule comes into play, and hospitals will need to provide their patients with a comprehensive price list for their treatments, which must be available online.
“We are just beginning on price transparency,” Seema Verma, head of U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, explained. “We know that hospitals have this information and we’re asking them to post what they have online.”
Despite this, experts believe it will be difficult for consumers to get much out of the new information. The reason for this is that the final bill is also affected by other factors, such as the coverage of health insurance, co-pays, and deductibles that will be calculated before the patient sees the bill.
“The list prices are so high that the vast majority of hospitals don’t even try to collect list prices from uninsured patients,” said Benedic Ippolito, with the American Enterprise Institute, who has researched hospital list prices.
Thomas Campanella, Baldwin Wallace University health care MBA program director, argues that real transparency will only be achieved once consumers can see what they will pay to a healthcare provider based on their insurance benefits. List prices should be able to show what the difference in cost for patients will be if the hospital falls outside of their network or don’t have contract agreements.
Of course, cost is not the only factor people take into consideration when needing medical care. Many people will also consider quality of care, safety, and the location of the hospital.
While people can look up prices online with the new rule, it can still be impossible for them to know what the final bill will come to. Oftentimes doctors will discover during the course of the planned test that another test or procedure is necessary, which will lead to more bills.
Even with these kinks, Miranda Creviston Motter, president and CEO of Ohio Association of Health Plans, has praised the move as she feels price transparency is important for consumers as medical costs continue to increase.