Beginning today, patients will be able to access prices that hospitals charge for their services. This change is part of Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar’s broader value-based agenda.
The CMS policy requires hospitals to “post their standard list of prices on the internet in a machine-readable format, rather than just being required to make them available in some form.”
While this is a step in the right direction for transparency and consumer rights, these new lists will not provide a complete picture of what a patient can expect to pay. The bill a patient will ultimately receive seldom matches the “sticker” price. Negotiated discounts from different insurance companies, deductibles, co-pays, and more all determine the final price.
Price comparison tools are being adopted by more insurance companies to address these concerns, but they are not perfect. Patients can’t anticipate every cost of a visit, and typically lack the expertise to understand medical terminology. Insurance companies that have provided these tools are observing very low utilization rates.
What remains to be seen is how far this push for transparency will really go. Is this a meaningful first step towards education and transparency, or is this a fleeting moment of political posturing?