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Laws to increase medical cost transparency might be leaving patients more confused

medical dataHow many times have you attended a public meeting where the presenter used obscure acronyms you’ve never heard before? It makes the entire meeting hard to follow. You’re frustrated because you’re trying to learn, and you wonder whether the organization is being transparent.

You are likely to encounter the same hurdles when it comes to hospital pricing.  As of Jan. 1, 2019, the federal government required all hospitals to post their prices online. This includes the price of a bed per day, tests, surgeries and operating time, and the costs of medications.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says these lists, known as “chargemasters,” help patients compare medical facilities and increase competition among hospitals, which could lower prices.

“We look forward to seeing consumers continue to drive the demand for hospitals to provide greater price transparency,” Seema Verma, Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator told Kaiser Health News.

While hospitals appear to be following the new rule, chargemaster lists use abbreviations, billing codes and medical terminology that even most doctors and nurses wouldn’t understand. In addition, the prices usually don’t take into account the prices that the insurance companies and government might negotiate in separate contracts benefitting their members.

There’s a good deal of debate among consumers and health care providers about whether the new information is confusing or clarifying. Federal officials have launched a new hashtag, #WheresthePrice, to draw more attention to the effort. They say they are not yet enforcing the new rule but argue that, long-term, price lists will spur competition among hospitals to lower prices.

Have you tried to compare prices using a hospital’s chargemaster list? Was it helpful or did it simply create more confusion? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.