OnDemand WTP Pricing Research

You can now look up charges at your local hospital. Good luck understanding them | Vox

The Trump administration rang in 2019 by enacting a seemingly great health care policy: requiring all hospitals to list the price of their most common procedures on their websites.

The whole idea was to make the American health care system more transparent, allowing patients to research the cost of care at thousands of hospitals across the country.

“We are just beginning on price transparency,” Medicare Administrator Seema Verma said when she announced the policy last April. “We know that hospitals have this information and we’re asking them to post what they have online.”

Her goal made a lot of sense: It is really hard for patients to research health care prices in our current system. One 2013 study found that nearly all hospitals could give you their parking prices — but barely any could provide an estimate for the cost of their health care services.

The federal government has had this hospital charge data for a while now. I actually wrote about it five years ago, for the Washington Post, when it was first put together.

All in all, it seemed like a common-sense and well-intentioned policy to liberalize health care data. And, on January 1, the policy rolled out into the real world. We’ve quickly seen some big shortcomings in this effort to increase price transparency — ones that tell us a lot about how hard it is to give patients good cost estimates in a health care system rife with secretive prices.

One of the biggest shortcomings? The data that hospitals are posting can be hard to find, and difficult to parse. I looked up the prices at some of my local hospitals in DC.

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You can now look up charges at your local hospital. Good luck understanding them. – Vox.