October 21, 2020

You can now see your hospital’s price list, but confusion still reigns

A federal law that went into effect Jan. 1 forced hospitals across the country to publish their price lists online to show the “sticker cost” of services they provide.

The goal was to provide transparency to patients, presumably, so they could “shop” services by price and begin to understand the value offered by health care providers.

For any mortal who has ever tried to decipher a hospital that news seems to be a good thing, as hospital bills are among the most confusing things most Americans ever face.

The new requirement is part of the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare). Hospitals had to release the prices previously, but at the beginning of 2019, those lists had to be posted online and in a format that allowed a person to easily download the price list.

By current law the prices have to be updated every year.

The only real challenge is that the effort to provide transparency doesn’t really offer a normal person any better idea of how to compare the price of one facility to the next.

It’s a little like giving someone about about neurosurgery and expecting them to be able to perform brain surgery. The reality is neurosurgery and understanding hospital prices are far more complicated than simply having access to information.

While seemingly a good first step, the current listings of prices are not all that helpful for a couple of reasons:

First, how on earth is a prospective patients supposed to know exactly which of a myriad of procedures they may expect to receive, what medical supplies doctors and nurses may use, etc.?

Second, most patients that have some form of insurance — whether private insurance or a government assisted and in all of those cases negotiated, contract rates come into play, not the “sticker” prices shown on the downloadable documents.

Assuming we understand the price lists correctly here’s a quick pricing comparison on looking at something rather simple – the room charge for a private standard room and an ICU room (ranked highest to lowest cost):

Private bed charge:
Memorial Hospital at Gulfport: $2,548.70
Merit Health Central: $901.00
Baptist Medical Center Jackson: $780.00
University of Mississippi Medical Center: $658.00

ICU bed charge:
Memorial Hospital at Gulfport: $8,133.40
University of Mississippi Medical Center: $3,598.00
Baptist Medical Center Jackson: $2,844.00
Merit Health Central: $2,263.07

If you have a few hours to get lost into some Excel spreadsheets and want to try and decipher of the price lists here are a few links:

University of Mississippi Medical Center
https://www.umc.edu/Healthcare/Patients-and-Visitors/Bill%20Pay/UMMC%20Pricing.html

Baptist Health Systems
https://www.baptistonline.org/estimate-my-costs/

St. Dominic’s Hospital
https://www.stdom.com/patients/patient-guide/pricing/

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport
http://www.gulfportmemorial.com/chargemaster

Merit Health Central
https://www.merithealthcentral.com/pricing-information