Hospital prices barely rising, but consumers still shut out

Hospital prices have barely budged over the past year and so has the ability of most patients to see what acute care facilities charge for procedures.

Pricing remains a mystery for the vast majority of hospital patients, Kaiser Health News reported. For example, 67-year-old Bill Lorimer was billed nearly $9,200 for diagnostic scans for his pelvis and abdomen, according to the article. His share under Medicare still edged past $1,800. That's about five times what the procedure would have cost at a nearby imaging center.

"Had I been a better healthcare buyer I would have probably checked around. But I was in a lot of pain. So I went over to the hospital," Lorimer told KHN.

However, other patients, under pressure to cover more of their healthcare costs, are apparently demanding more price information. "The very fact that people were insulated from the cost of care because it was the insurance company paying for it … gave people less incentive to be asking those questions," Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association, told KHN. "Now that they are, we're certainly trying to respond.''

Many experts say that price transparency will be one of the linchpins in streamlining and improving healthcare delivery. However, most states fall far short of achieving that goal.

Some insurers offer price transparency tools, but few consumers actually use them, according to KHN. Patients who are particularly proactive sometimes know someone with knowledge of healthcare billing practices in order to take advantage.

Meanwhile, hospital prices increased nationwide during the month of August by just 0.1 percent, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, AHA News Now reported. The overall price of hospital services has increased just 1.5 percent since August 2013.

To learn more:
- read the KHN article
- check out the AHA News Now article