Hospitals to list service costs online January 1st due to new federal rule

Hospitals will be required to post the cost of their standard services online, starting January 1, 2019.

Philadelphia residents tell Action News they think any transparency when it comes to healthcare costs is good.

But experts say while a simple x-ray might be easy to look up, other procedures might not be so black and white.

"I think it would be helpful if it was stated right at the front door - what it is you're going to be paying for certain things," Louis Garcia of North Philadelphia said.

Don't expect to see prices posted at the door, but starting in the New Year, hospitals will be required to post the costs for their standard services online.

Experts say this adds more transparency compared to the way things are now.

"If you wanted to know in advance what the official charge was for a procedure or service or even an aspirin tablet, you would have to go to the hospital and ask. And it could take days or weeks," Dr. Robert Field, a professor of Law and Public Health at Drexel University, said.

He says, while this is a step in the right direction, the information might be hard to navigate.

Every hospital has a chargemaster - a list of everything offered at the hospital and how much it costs.

Dr. Field says to picture a restaurant menu that's thousands of pages long, and when ordering your meal you have to know every single ingredient.

"How much salt did they put on your salad? How much sugar did they put in your coffee?" Field explained.

For example, if you were to have an MRI: there are MRIs without contrast, there are MRIs for different sections of your body, and you would have to know exactly which kind in order to see what the price was.

A spokesperson for the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania says hospitals will have different ways to make this information user-friendly including a helpline for pricing questions or an online video explaining the chargemaster.

Experts also remind patients, these online prices reflect what a hospital can bill an insurer, not necessarily what the patient will pay.

"And because we have so many different insurance plans, each one negotiated different rates, it's almost impossible now to know what the fair amount should be," Field said.

Bottom line: the experts we talked to say communicate with your health care provider and hospital.

Also, they say don't let cost be the sole factor when choosing your medical care.

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