CMS bans coding hospitals use to hide prices from web searches 

Federal regulators have said that healthcare pricing data, which hospitals and insurers must make public under new requirements, should not be blocked from web searches, according to an April 14 Wall Street Journal report. 

Six things to know: 

1. In March, the Journal reported that hundreds of hospitals have embedded special coding within their websites to block previously confidential pricing information from appearing in web searches. 

2. The code prevents pages, such as a hospital's name and prices, from appearing in Google web searches, computer experts told the publication. While the prices are still there, it requires clicking through multiple layers of pages to find them.

3. Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter April 13 to HHS calling for strict enforcement of the price transparency requirements. The letter cited evidence of hospitals' lack of compliance, including the Journal's analysis of more than 3,100 sites that use the search-blocking code, according to the report. 

4. CMS issued the new guideline March 23 in an online technical forum on GitHub, a website and cloud-based service, that focuses on the insurer-pricing rule; the rule applying to hospitals isn't covered in the forum, the publication reports. 

5. The rule change "helps clarify the intent of this regulation — make the files public and accessible," a CMS spokesperson told the Journal, adding that the agency "intends to provide more guidance on this in the future." 

6. CMS' statement said the hospital regulation requires the data to be "easily accessible and void of barriers" and that digital files "be digitally searchable," according to the report. HHS previously said it expects hospitals to comply with the price transparency guidelines and will enforce them. 


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