Federal Law Requires Hospitals to Post Prices Online

The Department of Health and Human Services enforced the law as of Jan. 1 to "promote transparency" between hospitals and their consumers

FARGO, N.D. — The Department of Health and Human Services started enforcing a federal law on January 1 in order to reduce the “challenges that exist for patients due to insufficient price transparency.”

While it may be promoting that hospitals be more clear with patients about pricing, it’s also creating some confusion on both ends.

“It’s very nondescript as far as what the requirement really is so facilities across the United States are just really doing their best to interpret CMS is asking for,” said Tiffany Lawrence, vice president of finance at Sanford Health in Fargo.

Sanford Health has partnered with organizations like the Minnesota Hospital Association in the meantime until the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides more guidance.

But it’s understanding the prices that’s becoming the problem for consumers when all hospitals bill differently.

“Some providers may bill their room charges as just a flat rate and others may bundle in supplies and other types of things so you can bill individually for certain things and/or you can bundle them. So it’s just very difficult for the patient to understand that and be able to do that type of comparison,” Lawrence said.

And when the price posted isn’t the actual cost because most people have some sort of healthcare provider.

“Maybe a starting point for CMS is to probably stick in the Medicare realm, from a standpoint, just because there will be a few more consistencies from provider to provider,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence says one of the best things for patients to do is call their hospital for a price estimate, especially because the new law isn’t quite there yet.

“I think it’s probably step one. Certainly I think there will probably be some massaging and/or changes to the ruling to make it more patient friendly. At this point, I think it was a first, good attempt but I think there will be a lot of changes associated with it,” Lawrence said.

Because down the line, it could be a lot more effective for all consumers.

“Getting more information in the hands of our consumers is always a good thing. I’m hopeful that this will be the first step in many more steps to provide more transparency into what it costs to receive healthcare in this country but if this starts that discussion, we’re all for it,” said Jon Godfread, ND insurance commissioner.

For Sanford’s price list, click here and select the location of your hospital under the “Pricing Information” tab.

For Essentia’s price list, click here.

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