How quickly will a hospital return a call about the price of an MRI?

Most Massachusetts hospital employees are "flummoxed" by questions about price and take several days to get back to patients with answers despite a state law that requires answers within two business days, according to a new survey.

The public policy think tank Pioneer Institute led the study, which involved phone calls to 22 of the state's 66 full-service hospitals about the charge or list price of a left-knee MRI.

Barbara Anthony, senior fellow with Pioneer, said she and her collaborator were transferred three to seven times. When they were referred to the hospital employee who did have the answer, this individual rarely answered the phone immediately, which led to days of phone tag, according to the Boston Globe.

The average wait for an answer was two to four business days, Ms. Anthony found. Sometimes she waited as many as six or seven. One community hospital south of Boston never provided a price, and only some hospitals shared information about the fee for an interpretation of the MRI for a realistic price.

Hospital websites were of little help; less than a handful had pages dedicated to transparency and price inquiries.

The law about price information is part of the state's landmark 2012 healthcare law but took effect in January 2014.

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