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Why new rule that hospitals must post prices online may not benefit consumers

Hospitals could be fined $300 per day if they do not comply
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Posted at 4:52 PM, Jan 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-01 18:23:26-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Welcome to 2021, when hospitals must now disclose what they charge for basic items and services.

The change is part of the Trump Administration's price transparency rule.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the rule is "now the most significant step any President has ever taken to deliver transparency and put patients in control of their care.”

The rule requires hospitals to provide specific information in a consumer friendly way about the amount you will pay for a service based on what the hospitals have negotiated with your insurance company, and any discounted cash prices they offer.

We looked at websites for several hospitals in our area and could not find the new information just yet.

VCU Health's Director of Public Affairs, Laura Rossacher, said "We are dedicated to making our charges transparent for consumers and intend to comply with hospital price transparency requirements."

"We are finalizing a new offering for an online self-estimator tool that gives patients a personalized estimate for their specific out-of-pocket costs based on their insurance coverage. In addition to the consumer-friendly online tool, we will post a machine-readable file of our payer charges once it is completed. " Rossacher added.

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But Carolyn Long Engelhard, a health policy professor at the University of Virginia, said many hospitals may not comply.

"They're awaiting the Biden administration who might come in and overturn this ruling," Engelhard said.

If hospitals do not comply, they could be fined $300 per day until they do.

Engelhard said consumers deserve a better way to understand what they will pay for medical procedures.

"It's unconscionable that this is the only market that you don't know how much something costs until you've already been supplied the service," Engelhard said.

However, she argues this new rule is not the answer.

"If you come in for a certain service, but you end up having additional services that you did not know you were going to need, all of those become bundled into a final hospital bill, which cannot be replicated on any website or anticipated necessarily," Engelhard said.