Hospital price websites of little use to consumers

Although various states are posting the prices charged by their hospitals, they are not of much use to consumers, according to U.S. News and World Report.

A study by researchers affiliated with the University of Michigan Medical School and published in the most recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association examined 62 websites intended to assist patients in pricing healthcare services.

"Ours is really the first empirical effort to examine what is being reported and identify specific areas that can be improved upon, and we did find clear opportunities to make these sites more relevant to consumers," lead author Jeffrey Kullgren told MedPage Today.

But according to U.S. News and MedPage Today, most of the websites reported bill charges rather than the negotiated fees patients usually are expected to pay. Moreover, most of the data focused on inhospital care, rather than elective services, such as laboratory and radiology tests, that are often optional and could be used by patients to negotiate better prices.

And more than 90 percent of the websites do not incorporate any specific insurance information in their pricing, MedPage Today reported.

"We often hear that negotiated rates are proprietary information, but an increasing number of states have passed laws that allow them to collect and report those data so this is not as big of an issue as it once was," Kullgren said.

The study was released at about the same time the Healthcare Financial Management Association announced it was launching a new price transparency effort.

Kullgren recommended that state healthcare pricing sites follow the example of New Hampshire's Health Cost website, which is among the most consumer friendly, according to MedPage Today.

To learn more:
- read the U.S. News and World Report article
- read the MedPage Today article
- read the JAMA study abstract