Hospital Price Disparities Draw Ire, Scrutiny From Public

Many hospitals investigated in California offer price discounts to patients who pay in cash up front regardless of their income or insurance, leading to criticism from consumers and public interest groups, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

For example, The Times researched prices for abdominal CT scans at eight California hospitals (under California state law, hospitals must post their chargemasters of all hospital prices). At Los Alamitos (Calif.) Medical Center, the average 2011 charge of that type of CT scan was $4,423. If a patient used his or her insurance, he or she would have to pay $2,400, but if he or she paid in cash, it would only cost $250.

"It frustrates people because there's no correlation between what things cost and what is charged," said Paul Keckley, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, in the report. "It changes the game when healthcare's secrets aren't so secret."

The California Hospital Association said the discounted cash prices at hospitals are intended for uninsured patients, and for insured patients, they are "under that insurance plan's negotiated rate with the hospital," according to the report.

Several healthcare policy experts believe these types of pricing trends could lead to universal disclosure of all hospital and medical costs. "The insiders in the healthcare industry don't want to lose control over this information," Mr. Keckley said in the report. "But price transparency is inevitable."

More Articles on Hospital Prices:

Report: High Prices at Hospitals, Others Drove High Healthcare Costs During Recession

North Carolina Governor Wants More Transparent Hospital Pricing

U.S. Outspends 12 Industrialized Nations on Healthcare, But Quality Lags

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