New law requires hospitals to publish price lists
Good news, consumer: your health care just got a little more transparent.
As of the first of the year, hospitals are now required by federal law to publish prices online for all the medical services that they provide. Furthermore, they must make them available in a format that you can easily download to PCs and other devices.
The law also applies to rehabilitation facilities, psychiatric hospitals and critical access hospitals, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
What it means for you
Realistically, it's unlikely that many people will end up choosing hospital facilities based on these price lists, because for most of us, health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid dictates not only which facilities are our preferred providers, but what our actual out-of-pocket costs are when we use them.
Nonetheless, the more price transparency we see among health care institutions (and Big Pharma), the better it is for all of us.
Nevertheless, some experts worry that the hospital price lists may be misleading or off-putting, since very few people will actually pay what are essentially list prices.
However, if consumers who do have a choice of hospitals use the posted costs as leverage to choose the overall best institutions (based on multiple factors), we may see a gradual lowering of costs that could help level the playing field.
And while these hospital price lists will undoubtedly induce an instant case of sticker shock, keep in mind that most health care institutions in the post-ACA era are operating on a slim 3-4 percent profit margin. Rising insurance and managed care costs as well as low level Medicare reimbursement are already stressing hospitals and other providers.
No doubt about it: American health care is expensive!
The most important hospital numbers
It will be interesting to see how many people actually compare hospital costs or whether the new law will affect pricing among the most competitive, prestigious institutions.
Only time will tell.
However, quality of care -- not cost -- should always be the most important factor when it comes to choosing a hospital or physician. If you're going to look at numbers, look at an institution's infection rates and overall medical error rates. After all, medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in America, right up there with cancer and heart disease.
Here's an easy way to find and compare objective hospital ratings in your area: visit medicare.gov/hospitalcompare and/or www.hospitalsafetygrade.org. Simply punch in your ZIP code, and prepare to be enlightened.
Because while health care numbers matter, some matter more than others.
• Teri Dreher, RN, iRNPA, is a board-certified patient advocate and pioneer in the growing field of private patient advocacy. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, today she is owner/founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the largest advocacy company in the Chicago area. She was awarded her industry's highest honor, The APHA H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award, in 2015. She is among the first in her industry to earn the credential of board-certified patient advocate (BCPA). Her 2016 book, "Patient Advocacy Matters," is now in its second printing.