Health Care Transparency Can Be Clear as Mud

  • Make sure you have a lot of time and patience on your hands because it isn’t easy to find the price information. For some of the larger systems, I came up empty handed and couldn’t find it at all. On other hospital sites, the information is buried deep within their websites. If you are relying on the search bars, using the term “standard charges” generally seems to yield the greatest results.
  • A few hospitals require you to register and enter personal information, including your name and email address, before you can view the charges. It felt the opposite of friendly. They don’t require that to use any other part of their websites.
  • I’m happy to report that I didn’t find any hospitals in New York that show only “a blob of incomprehensible script,” as one hospital system in California does. But prepare to be overwhelmed and confused by the information. One hospital actually has more than 73,000 different codes on their chargemaster while a nearby hospital has a mere 8,839. There’s no standard format across hospitals for what information is included and how it’s labeled, and so it’s impossible to comparison-shop.
  • You probably won’t understand the codes anyway, no matter how many or how few there are. I hope you don’t need a “Silverhawk Peripheral CAT” because that goes for $17,466 while a “Namic Manifold” can be had at the same hospital for only $51. I have no idea what those things are other than they fit in the category of radiopharmaceutical supplies.
  • Similarly, you probably won’t be able to tell what you’ll pay for Tamiflu unless you know to look for “oseltamivir phosphate.” But if you do find it, you may see that 30 milligrams costs $217 and 75 milligrams costs $3 at the same hospital.
  • You won’t find an easy way to tell what the all-in price would be for a bundle of services, like for a heart valve repair. But that’s what patients want. People don’t think about their health care in thousands of discrete codes and procedures; they want to know what they’ll pay in total for a knee replacement or to have a baby, without having to add up the price of every painkiller, bandage, and consultation that’s involved.

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