7 challenges to comparing prices for common hospital services

A recent study looked at the websites of 102 hospitals in 50 states between January and March to see how they were complying with the CMS price transparency rule that took effect Jan. 1.

The CMS final rule aims to make hospital-pricing information readily available to patients to compare costs and make more informed healthcare decisions. To aid with this, hospitals in the U.S. are required to post a machine-readable file with the negotiated rates for all items and services and display the prices of 300 shoppable services in a consumer-friendly format. 

Research released April 9 by the Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation Health System Tracker made it clear there's room for vast improvement for providers to make their pricing information more consumer-friendly.

Below are seven challenges in comparing prices for common services across hospitals, according to the study:

  1. Not all hospitals measure price the same way. Some use estimates, some use averages, and some use single established rates.

  2. Price information provided in machine-readable files often has missing information, failing to provide all services for all payers and rates.

  3. Most hospitals don't present the price differences for inpatient and outpatient care. 

  4. It's often unclear whether the estimated price includes the professional fee.

  5. Price estimates for the same service often differ depending on whether a consumer uses the hospital's price transparency tool or its machine-readable file.

  6. Hospitals often make their price information difficult to access or search for.

  7. Price estimates can change over a short time.

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