New law requires hospitals to post prices online, but some say it can be misleading

Calculating health care costs online

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A new federal ruling aims to make medical expenses more transparent.

It’s billed as a move for healthcare to break down what people are paying when it comes to hospital visits. But does it really clear up the picture for patients?

All hospitals across the country are now required to post their prices online for patients to review before seeking medical care. This includes everything from the cost of medications, to services or tests performed, or even how many days they have to stay in the hospital.

The idea, created by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is an effort to create transparency between the hospital and the patient. The new law went into effect Jan. 1, and while some argue the exact dollar amount may be misleading to patients, others also say this is a positive step.

“It’s positive in the sense that it gives people information that they did not have before to try to become smarter consumers. It’s not a solution to containing healthcare costs, which some people are optimistic for, but at least it opens the conversation,” said Dr. Sheila Hume.

While more information is always welcome, some health care experts said the list doesn’t always represent what patients have to pay out of pocket. The standard charge is a price estimate for certain services hospitals offer, but it doesn’t factor in insurance or other variables that could increase or decrease those prices seen online.

For example, if one takes a look at Grand Strand Medical Center’s price list on their website, a visit to the hospital for pneumonia without insurance can be between $5,000 to $12,000.

Looking at these lists may seem overwhelming, but heath experts said consumers should really treat this list as the first step in calculating health care costs.

"For the patient who wants to know the information, it’s something that’s good to put in their toolbox but it’s only a small part of what they need to be good health care consumers,” said Ellen Abisch, president of Health Advocate Services.

Hospitals in the Grand Strand have teams available to educate patients on what goes into costs. It’s recommended to contact the hospital’s business office for more information.

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