Massachusetts hospitals still fail to comply with price transparency law

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Despite state law requiring price transparency, Massachusetts patients still face roadblocks to getting that information from providers, according to a new report.

Patients in Massachusetts still have trouble accessing hospital pricing information in a timely manner, despite the fact that a state law requiring price transparency took effect more than three years ago. 

Only nine out of 21 hospitals in the state contacted by researchers at the Pioneer Institute were able to provide price estimates within two business days, as required by state law, according to a new report (PDF). This comes a year and a half after Pioneer first contacted the same hospitals for a look at price transparency in the state, with similar results.

“Deductibles can range from $1,500 to more than $7,000,” Barbara Anthony, one of the authors of the report and a Pioneer senior fellow in healthcare policy, said in an announcement. “Given that reality, access to price information is more important than ever before. This survey once again demonstrates how frustrating and time consuming it is for the average consumer to obtain a price quote.”

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One area of concern, according to the report, is that staff members at four of the 21 hospitals were not aware of the law. Another issue is that five of the hospitals required that the callers provide a diagnostic code before providing a price estimate, which the researchers say may violate the state’s price transparency law. Several of the other hospitals asked for a code but eventually looked it up themselves. Patients do not typically have easy access to that type of information, according to the researchers.

In addition to the variation in how long it took for the researchers to get price estimates, the quoted prices also varied widely. All hospitals were asked for the cost of an MRI of the left knee without contrast, and researchers were quoted $1,061.22 at Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton, while Massachusetts General Hospital quoted $8,447. In a difference from the first survey, Pioneer researchers also asked providers about self-pay or cash discounts, and found a range from 6% to 47%.

The researchers followed up with the hospitals at least a month after the original calls and requested estimates again, and got different prices from seven of the hospitals on the second request. In most cases, the difference was caused by a mistake the hospital made the first time.

“I think there are two major takeaways from these surveys,” Jim Stergios, Pioneer’s executive director, said in the announcement. “The first is that three years after it took effect, the time has come for hospitals to get serious about complying with the state’s price transparency law, and the second is that state government needs to exercise leadership and do a much better job of advancing compliance with these laws.”