Massachusetts hospitals fail to comply with price transparency law

Massachusetts leaped onto the leading edge of price transparency when it passed one of the first laws in the nation requiring providers to furnish true prices to consumers. More than a year later and many patients are still having trouble obtaining clear and timely price estimates from providers in the Bay State. Most hospitals recently surveyed by a Massachusetts-based think tank were "flummoxed" when queried about their prices, the Boston Globe has reported.

The survey from the Pioneer Institute, a right-of-center organization that embraces free-market solutions for healthcare delivery, included about one third of the state's hospitals. Not only were few hospitals able to comply with the law as it is written, but staffs at many had no idea how to handle a price request.

"With few exceptions, hospitals seem to have no systems or procedures in place to direct consumers who are looking for price information," the survey states, also noting that phone calls to hospitals to obtain pricing data led to transfers to three to as many as seven different departments. In the case of obtaining the price for the MRI of a left knee, some hospitals took as long as seven business days to respond, although the law compels them to provide pricing within two business days. And many facilities did not disclose the fact that the cost of interpreting the MRI was a separate charge for patients. Prices for the MRIs also ranged widely, from less than $400 to more than $8,000 at one unnamed facility in central Boston.

The survey detailed that some providers declined to give prices without providing the diagnostic code, even though at least one advisory from state regulators told providers not to insist on codes.

Despite the price transparency law being on the books, hospitals in Massachusetts may have another reason to continue fudging on their prices: Those that charge more for their services tend to make more money.

The survey recommended additional training for hospital employees and more efficient means of answering price queries and communicating with patients. And according to the Globe, some hospitals have been instituting changes to better respond to patients. UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester has purchased and will install software that will make price estimates easier. An official with the hospital told the Globe that all recent queries had been answered within 48 hours.

To learn more:
- read the Boston Globe article
- check out the Pioneer Institute report (.pdf)