Hospitals impose fees on office visits amid payer pushback

Hospitals that have acquired physician practices often are tacking on facility charges for routine office visits. But hospitals shouldn't get too used to the practice, as some insurers are starting to halt such fees.

Joanne Silberner, a longtime healthcare policy correspondent for National Public Radio, received a $228 facilities bill for visiting her dermatologist at the Roosevelt Clinic, which is now owned by the University of Washington Medicine health system, The Seattle Times reported. By contrast, Silberner was billed only $109 for visiting her doctor.

Such billings have become more common as hospitals have acquired physician practices in recent years. Seattle Children's and Swedish Medical Center are two other hospitals that also impose "facility fees," the article noted.

The trend can permeate into other facets of healthcare. Renown Health in Nevada more than quadrupled fees for services such as echocardiograms after it bought up medical practices in the Reno area, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But in a pushback move, the Group Health Cooperative, a major insurer in the Seattle region, told its provider network it will no longer pay facility fees for routine office visits and won't pass the costs on to their enrollees, the Times reported.

"Facility fees demonstrate how the fee-for-service system can inflate cost without in any way contributing to the health of patients," Group Health Chief Executive Officer Scott Armstrong told the Times. "There's a principle: We're not going to pay more just because the structure of the practice is different."

For more:
- read the Seattle Times article
- here's the Wall Street Journal article (subscription required)