Pioneer Institute: Massachusetts hospitals lack compliance with state's price transparency law

Massachusetts hospitals fail to provide price estimates within two days of consumers' requests, despite a state law requiring them to do so, according to a Pioneer Institute study.

The study, released Monday, comes 18 months after Pioneer Institute's initial price transparency survey among Massachusetts acute care hospitals. Twenty-two of the 66 acute care hospitals in Massachusetts were part of the initial survey. The Pioneer Institute said researchers identified as self-pay patients and asked for the cost of an MRI of the left knee without contrast. In the end, the initial survey "found little price transparency" at the 22 hospitals, Pioneer Institute said.

Researchers decided to follow up on the initial analysis and surveyed 21 of the same hospitals that were part of the first study. The latest survey was conducted between Sept. 20 and Nov. 2, 2016, using the same methodology as the initial survey. But for the latest survey, researchers identifying as self-pay patients not only asked for undiscounted prices for an MRI of the left knee without contrast, but also for information on the discounts offered by most hospitals to self-pay patients for the scan price and reading fee, Pioneer Institute said.

Out of the 21 hospitals surveyed, only nine could provide the estimate within two business days, as required by state law, according to Pioneer Institute. Overall, it took an average of two to four business days to receive pricing information, according to a news release.

"Deductibles can range from $1,500 to more than $7,000," Pioneer Senior Fellow in Healthcare Policy Barbara Anthony, who authored the report with Scott Haller, said in the release. "Given that reality, access to price information is more important than ever before. This survey once again demonstrates how frustrating and time consuming it is for the average consumer to obtain a price quote."

The latest survey also found consumers received a wide array of cost estimates. According to the release, undiscounted estimates ranged from $1,061.22 at Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton, Mass., to $8,447 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Discounted estimates also ranged, from $636.73 at MHMC to $6,928 at MGH.

"About two-thirds of the hospitals readily disclosed the self-pay discount, while in the other cases callers had to ask about it. MRI reading fee discounts were disclosed at a similar rate," the release states.

Additionally, five of the 21 hospitals required consumers to supply a diagnostic code before providing an estimate, which may violate state regulations, Pioneer Institute said. Some hospitals also directed callers to a third party to get a separate estimate for the MRI reading fee, which can delay the process of obtaining an estimate, the release states.

"I think there are two major takeaways from these surveys," Pioneer Executive Director Jim Stergios concluded in the release. "The first is that three years after it took effect, the time has come for hospitals to get serious about complying with the state's price transparency law, and the second is that state government needs to exercise leadership and do a much better job of advancing compliance with these laws."

Click here to access the full survey findings.


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