It’s time for hospitals to be transparent about their prices


More than a year after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services enacted a rule requiring hospitals to disclose prices for routine procedures, most still aren’t complying.

That’s according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. As of last month, CMS had issued 335 warnings to hospitals for failing to follow the rule. Not one has been fined yet.

It’s time for hospitals to comply with the rule — or pay a steep price.

Hospitals have long used opaque pricing schemes as an excuse to charge wildly different rates to different patients for the same service. In 2020, a study by the research firm Crowe found that the cost difference between the highest and lowest prices for common procedures varied an average of nearly 300%.

For example, suppose you’re an expectant mother in the second or third trimester living in Baltimore. You need a routine ultrasound — and can schedule it at either Good Samaritan Hospital or Franklin Square Medical Center. The two hospitals are about eight miles away from one another and are both operated by MedStar Health.

According to data made public by the two hospitals, Good Samaritan charges $100 more than its corporate cousin Franklin Square. That kind of information can be incredibly useful to a person covering the cost of the procedure out of pocket.

Or consider a middle-aged Boston man with employer-sponsored health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. An urgent but not life-threatening visit to the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital will run him $946. If he’d headed to Boston Medical Center, the bill would be $577.

Mass General may have good reason for charging more. But consumers and health plans can’t evaluate those reasons without knowing the difference in prices in the first place.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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