Conn. AG criticizes hospital facility fees

Connecticut's attorney general concludes that the state's hospitals have done a poor job disclosing facility fees to patients who received treatments from affiliated physicians.

A minority of hospitals in Connecticut that charge facility fees disclose them to the patients prior to billing, and only one does so through brochures and other proactive forms of communication, according to the report ordered by Attorney General George Jepsen.

In many instances, such fees dramatically increase the out-of-pocket costs for patients. For example, the cost of a $390 routine skin biopsy went up nearly 50 percent with the addition of a $170 facility fee. A Holter monitoring service tacked on another $1,200 in facility fees to a patient's bill. In the report, one Medicare Advantage enrollee who had only a $50 co-payment for a dermatology visit was charged an additional $128.28. Although organizations must disclose facility fees for Medicare services to patients, in this instance it was in the form of a notice tacked to the wall, according to the report.

The addition of facility fees, often for routine outpatient care, is more common as hospitals acquire physician practices. However, it has left many patients confused and angry with the practice, with some taking legal action to stop such fees. Other patients have suggested that they would not pay them at all. At least one hospital system, Missouri-based Mercy Healthcare, decided to rescind the fees after repeated complaints from patients.

"Acquisitions and mergers often make business sense, and may lead to some efficiencies and more integrated care, but they also may result in higher prices, fewer consumer options and lack of competition," said Jepsen, who has received about 70 complaints from consumers regarding the fees, the New Haven Register reported.

Jepsen's report did not make any specific recommendations. The Connecticut Hospital Association has recommended more transparency on facility fees, but a standard practice has yet to be adopted.

To learn more:
- read the report
- here's the New Haven Register article