Despite a new law requiring hospitals to post detailed pricing information for their treatments and procedures online, fewer than 10% of U.S. adults are aware of the requirement.
That’s a problem considering that a growing number of Americans have high-deductible health plans, which come with up-front lower premiums but with higher out-of-pocket expenses.
One of the driving forces behind HDHPs is that they give the enrollee more “skin in the game,” by incentivizing them to shop around for care since they will have to pay for it themselves up to their deductible.
But if people are not aware they can find pricing for medical services on providers’ websites, they may not know how to begin comparing prices.
A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 9% of those surveyed were aware that hospitals are required to publish the prices for their services online, in line with new price transparency regulations that took effect Jan. 1, 2021.
The price transparency rule, implemented by the Trump administration, requires hospitals to post on their websites:
- A plain language description of each shoppable service and item.
- A description of charges, including:
- Payer-specific negotiated charge, or the price a third party payer such as a health insurance company would pay.
- Discounted cash price, or the price a patient would pay without insurance.
- Gross charge, or the charge absent any discounts.
- De-identified maximum and minimum negotiated charges for each.
- Any primary code used by the hospital for purposes of accounting or billing.
Here’s what the survey found:
- 69% of respondents were unsure whether hospitals are required to disclose the prices of treatments and procedures.
- 22% believed hospitals are not required to disclose this information.
- 9% were aware hospitals are required to disclose the prices of treatments and procedures on their websites.
- 14% said that they or a family member had gone online in the past six months to research the price of a treatment at a hospital.
- Younger adults (ages 18 to 49) were more likely to say they or a family member had searched for the price of care online.
Educating your staff
Employers with HDHPs should inform their staff about the price transparency rule so that they can research pricing ahead of any procedures they may have. Most health system websites should be posting their pricing by now, but it may take some digging to find them.
If they have been ordered to get a certain procedure, they can start by going to each provider available to them through their health insurance and researching the pricing on their website. If they can’t find the information, they should call the provider to get the information. They will need the negotiated price between their health plan and the provider.
Prices can vary dramatically between providers, and your staff need to make sure they are comparing the exact same service between them.
They should also consider calling the providers and inquiring about the cash price for the services. In some instances, the cash price may end up being even less than their deductible or copay.
One problem: Many hospitals have not published their rates and there has been a lack of consistency between providers in terms of how they are providing the information.
This has prompted the CMS to audit hospitals’ websites and complaints, and it recently started sending out notices to hundreds of hospitals that are not complying with the transparency regulations.
Finally, many insurance carriers offer searchable online databases for their enrollees where people can research the approximate cost of certain procedures among all the providers available to them.