Starting in 2019, hospitals will be required to list prices for items and services provided by the hospital online. The new Medicare rules take effect Jan. 1 and, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the move is part of a goal of more transparency in health care.
“Can you imagine going to the grocery store, getting the groceries you need for the week, but never knowing the price of your items until a week later when the store sends you a bill?” Seema Verma, head of the agency, wrote in a recent blog post. “Sadly, that’s how health care works every day.”
Verna said the effort toward greater transparency in health care costs is part of the Trump administration’s work encouraging patients to be more informed about their own medical care.
“We must do something about rising cost, and a key pillar is to empower patients with the information they need to drive cost and quality by making our health care system evolve to one that competes for patients,” Verma said. “This is why price transparency in health care is a priority for the Trump Administration.”
Jack Cheevers, the CMS spokesperson for California, referred to the blog post by the head of the agency and a list of frequently asked questions when asked about the new rules and whether he could comment on the actions.
The mandate applies to all hospitals in the United States. And hospitals that do not comply will “not be in compliance with the law,” according to the FAQ. It goes on to add that “future rulemaking” will address actual enforcement actions.
Locally, St. Joseph Health, which operated the Eureka and Fortuna hospitals, and Arcata’s Mad River Community Hospital will be required to make the information available.
“We will have prices listed on our website, stjoehumboldt.org, beginning in January,” said Vanessa deGier, a spokesperson for St. Joseph Health’s Northern California region.
She cautioned that the listing of prices is not a complete picture. Patients could see charges differently on bills received after a procedure.
“The pricing data required by CMS does not reflect a patient’s financial liability, as that amount will depend on the full course of treatment and on the type of insurance coverage a patient has.”
Mad River Community Hospital did not respond to repeated requests for comment Thursday.
Transparency of hospital pricing is already required in California and is available on the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development website, a requirement that has been in place for many years.
St. Joseph Health lauded greater transparency.
“At St. Joseph Health-Humboldt County, we know that health care can be an unexpected expense and that the cost of health care services can be a deciding factor for many people as they plan for care,” deGier said. “St. Joseph Health-Humboldt County supports health care pricing transparency and tools that help patients and consumers evaluate what care is best for them and any related financial costs.”
The hospital also urged patients to learn as much as possible about costs.
“We encourage all health care consumers to speak with their providers and their health plan to get a full picture of what they will pay,” deGier said. “For our patients, the new lists of charges will add to the existing ways we offer our patients access to pricing information and help them make informed health care decisions. For example, we offer financial counseling for those experiencing hardship at any point throughout their care.”
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.