A progress check on hospital price transparency
Published in Health & Fitness
For decades, U.S. hospitals have generally stonewalled patients who wanted to know ahead of time how much their care would cost. Now that’s changing — but there’s a vigorous debate over what hospitals are disclosing.
Under a federal rule in effect since 2021, hospitals nationwide have been laboring to post a mountain of data online that spells out their prices for every service, drug, and item they provide, including the actual prices they’ve negotiated with insurers and the amounts that cash-paying patients would be charged. They’ve done so begrudgingly and only after losing a lawsuit that challenged the federal rule.
How well they’re doing depends on whom you ask.
The rule aims to pull back the curtain on opaque hospital prices that may vary widely by hospital for the same service or even within the same hospital. The expectation is that price transparency will boost competition, giving consumers and employers a way to compare prices and make informed choices, ultimately driving down the cost of care. Whether that will happen is not yet clear.
Insurers and large employers are also required to post their negotiated prices with all their providers, under separate rules that took effect last summer.
Hospitals have made “substantial progress,” according to an analysis by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services of 600 randomly selected hospitals that was published in the journal Health Affairs last month. The agency looked at whether hospitals had met their obligation to post price information online in two key formats: a “shoppable” list of at least 300 services for consumers, and a comprehensive machine-readable file that incorporates all the services for which the hospital has standard charges. This file should be in a format that allows researchers, regulators, and others to analyze the data.
CMS found that 70% of hospitals published both lists in 2022. An additional 12% published one or the other. By contrast, the agency’s previous progress assessment in 2021 found that just 27% of 235 hospitals had both types of lists.
The 2022 analysis “represents a marked improvement,” said Dr. Meena Seshamani, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicare at CMS, in a statement. But she also said the advances are still “not sufficient” and CMS will continue to use “technical assistance and enforcement activity” so that all hospitals “fully comply with the law.”
The American Hospital Association said the CMS assessment demonstrated the progress hospitals had made under very challenging circumstances as they grappled with the covid-19 pandemic.
“These are complicated policies that went into effect in the most complicated time in hospitals’ history,” said Molly Smith, group vice president for policy at the trade association. “And we have seen increases in compliance over the past 18 months.”
©2023 Kaiser Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.