The federal government’s new rule requiring hospitals to post prices for their services is intended to allow patients to shop around and compare prices, a step toward price transparency that has generated praise and skepticism.
Kaiser Health News examined the price lists — known in hospital lingo as “chargemasters” — of the largest acute care hospitals in several large cities.
Prices varied widely on some basic procedures, even for basic charges. For instance, the list price on a liter of basic saline solution for intravenous use ranged from $56 to $472.50, nearly seven times as much. A brain MRI with contrast was priced from $1,720 to $8,800 at the hospitals. And they varied widely even when comparing nearby hospitals.
The new rule mandates that the chargemasters be available on the hospital website in a machine-readable format, but not all hospitals make them easy to find, and understanding them is a bigger obstacle.
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KHN senior correspondent Julie Appleby and California Healthline’s Barbara Feder Ostrov recently wrote about this new rule and found price lists befuddling to most anyone without an advanced medical degree.