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Hospitals have to post prices online now, but how helpful is it?

SPOKANE, Wash. - A new law is supposed to make it easier for you to shop around and find the best price before you go to the hospital. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finalized the rule requiring hospitals to publish a list of charges on the internet. Advocates said it was a way to empower patients, create transparency, and drive up competition. 

But some local hospitals warn this requirement is not as helpful as it seems. 

MultiCare is in compliance with the new rule, that went into place January 1, but spokesperson Kevin Maloney said patients are better off calling MultiCare or their insurance company for a cost estimate. 

"While the new rule is to increase the public's access to cost information, the chargemaster is a poor tool for achieving this goal," Maloney said. "It reflects prices consumers do not pay."

MultiCare's master list is a spreadsheet that includes 35,250 items. It includes the procedure code, billing description, and estimated price. 

Deciphering the billing description may be more challenging than you think. It includes items like C XR ACROMIOCLAVICULAR JOINTS BILATERAL-73050 and C IMPL-DEVICE CLOSURE ATRIAL WATCHMAN 24MM. 

 

 

Maloney went on to point out the different things that go into a final medical bill. 

  •  Procedure: Each patient's care is based on their individual needs, so medications, supplies, imaging, and other testing can differ for each person. The price on the chargemaster online won't reflect the variations. 
  • Insurance coverage: Each hospital agrees on an adjusted cost with an insurance company, so your insurance company and kind of plan will impact what you pay.
  • Self-pay discount: Some hospitals, like MultiCare, offer discounts to patients without health insurance.
  • Financial assistance eligibility: Some hospitals also offer financial help through programs and qualifying for that financial assistance can bring down your cost. 

Providence Health Care Director of Communications Elizabeth DeRuyter said in a statement more should be done on this issue. 

DeRuyter said Providence St. Joseph Health plans to comply with CMS requirements, but isn't compliant as of Jan. 3.

According to DeRuyter, they are "in the process of aligning the different versions of our electronic health record technology across our entire organization to create a better experience for our caregivers and patients. This technology houses our hospitals' charge and code date."

She went on to note that the pricing information will be online by the end of January. 

See MultiCare's pricing here and pricing for Kootenai Health here.  


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