Groups Trying to Make Hospital Prices Clear

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Sep. 16, 2013 12:00 am  

Baptist Health’s CFO Bob Roberts said Baptist helps patients estimate costs.  St. Vincent and other hospitals now use net revenue as their top-line figure.

“We try to help a patient individually estimate the cost, … based on what they’re having done,” Roberts said. “It tends to be pretty specific to each individual.”

He said a range of prices is usually quoted to a patient, not a specific price.

Hospital Charges

The idea behind HHS releasing the financial numbers in May was to promote price transparency.

Critics, however, blasted the information because the numbers did little to help consumers determine what they might have to pay for a given procedure.

“The way they put it out, characterizing it as something that would be useful to consumers in shopping for health care, was nonsensical because it bares … little relationship to what people actually pay for care,” said Alwyn Cassil, a spokesman for Center for Studying Health System Change of Washington, D.C.

Wolfskill, of the Healthcare Finance Practice, compared the hospital charges listed in the report to sticker prices on cars.

“Nobody in their right mind pays sticker price,” she said. “It’s exactly the same concept with [hospital] charges.”

In Arkansas, prices charged for a kidney and urinary tract infection without major complications were all over the map. At Johnson Regional Medical Center in Clarksville it was $5,808; at National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs, the charge was five times more, $29,602.

But another column in the spreadsheet showed the average total payment to the hospitals, which was much closer. In fact, Johnson Regional received an average of $4,846 for the kidney and urinary tract infection procedure — $25 more than the average paid to National Park.

Anderson, Johnson Regional’s CFO, said the hospital has tried to keep a lid on charges.

“We pride ourselves on being a very good value for the patients,” he said. “Health care is not cheap, but compared to a lot of other people, we’ve been very responsive to the patient and surrounding areas.”



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