Hospitals’ Lack of Transparency Keeps Patients in the Dark

ACORN International Arkansas Health Care Ideas and Issues Local 100 Louisiana
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              New Orleans      The American Hospital Association and its members, supposedly dedicated to their patients and the maxim of “doing no harm”, sued the federal government for years to prevent the imposition of a rule that would require them to finally reveal their prices.  After they repeatedly lost in court, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was finally able to address the dilemma of patients being in the dark about hospital costs and on January 1, 2021, they began requiring most American hospitals to disclose pricing information on their websites.

ACORN International, Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center, and Local 100, United Labor Unions partnered on a three-state study, where they had long involvement and many members, to study the implementation and impact of this new rule.  The results are compiled in a recently released breakthrough report entitled, “Hospital Price Transparency & It’s Implementation in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas”.  The report is out, but the news isn’t good.  Few hospitals are complying with either the letter or spirit of the new rule, and many aren’t even bothering to reveal their prices at all, much less in a machine-readable and easily comparable fashion, as required.  In fact, in the process of this year-long research, the project reported close to 100 hospitals for total noncompliance.  They didn’t even bother.

The report finds that,

Transparency in procedure costs for patients remains low. A minority of hospitals in Arkansas (33%), Louisiana (42%), and Texas (30%) have truly accessible price estimation tools. And among those with accessible tools, the range of the estimates can vary so widely as to make them useless.

In some cases, hospitals included scores of prices for the same procedure, creating total confusion for patients and making it impossible to compare with other facilities.  The report also found wide variations in public, private, and nonprofit hospitals with nonprofits being generally more expensive in Louisiana, although Texas had the highest average costs across the board, and Arkansas the least.  The metro areas with the highest list prices in each state are Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers (Arkansas), Lake Charles (Louisiana), and Longview (Texas).

Bottom line, this regulation has failed and needs to be fixed.  The report, and the organizations behind it, argue that the fix is straightforward:

…the CMS’s transparency regulation can be significantly improved with three key changes: requiring insurers to begin disclosing reimbursement data, instituting significant penalties for hospitals and insurers who fail to comply, and requiring both a set coding system and plain language descriptions of procedures.

As Warren, Arkansas, veteran healthcare worker, Henrietta Collins, president of Local 100, United Labor Unions, said, “This price transparency regulation was supposed to shed some light on these prices to benefit consumers, but this study shows that it’s totally failed. There’s no rhyme or reason. Until hospitals get their act together and agree on standards or the government makes them, patients will continue to be in the dark about the cost of their healthcare.”

We need to make them do better.  Your Congressional delegation needs to get to work.  State officials need to kick some butt as well.  We all need to demand that our hospitals stop playing and do right.  This report points the way, now we all need to make change happen.