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Despite transparency, hospital sticker prices remain confusing

transparencyAs of Jan. 1, 2019, the Trump administration requires all hospitals to post their list prices online. The objective is to promote transparency for hospital costs. Instead costs remain as confusing as ever.

These lists are massive compendiums of prices set by each hospital for services, drugs and other items patients could be charged for. The information  includes medical codes, abbreviations, dollar signs and more that, without a deeper knowledge, likely won’t help a patient better understand their hospital bill.

For example, to simply figure out what an ambulance trip might cost, a patient must find the price for each line item that could show up on the bill – blood tests, medicines used, hospital facility fee, the physician’s charge and more.

“I don’t think it’s very helpful,” Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management, told Kaiser Health News. “There are about 30,000 different items on a chargemaster file. As a patient, you don’t know which ones you will use.”

These lists are also often hard to find on a hospital’s website, and there is no penalty for failing to post them. Even after finding and reading through a list, the abbreviations can be impossible to understand without background knowledge of what they represent.

Have you tried finding a chargemaster file to better understand your hospital’s prices? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.