WI updates hospital price database, but challenges remain

An affiliate of the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) released its latest version of its PricePoint price information system for inpatient procedures earlier this week, and it continues to show that provider charges are all over the map.

For example, the price for an inpatient coronary bypass with cardiac catheterization among hospitals in the southeastern part of the state ranges from approximately $105,000 to more than $178,000, the Milwaukee Business Journal reported.

The WHA has posted some form of hospital prices for the past decade through its PricePoint application. The latest version includes "retail" or chargemaster prices for the state's hospitals and ambulatory care centers. The WHA said it expanded its listings in response to increased cost-shifting to patients.

"It's not possible or practical to compare prices for all services in advance, but for elective surgery and diagnostic procedures, PricePoint offers consumers an opportunity to see the 'sticker' price in advance, and then offers guidance on who to contact to determine their out-of-pocket expenses," said WHA Senior Vice President Brian Potter in a statement.

Wisconsin's pricing system demonstrates the dilemma of the need for true price transparency. Several states, such as Wisconsin and California, list hospital chargemaster prices, but discounting is so prevalent for patients with insurance that even some hospital officials say the chargemaster prices are worthless.

In California, even though chargemaster data is available, what hospitals charge for simple blood tests varies widely. A recently launched hospital price database in Colorado is based on more concise payer data.

Indeed, "a hospital stay, for example, includes a charge from the hospital, a charge for the physician services, rehabilitation or physical therapy expenses in some cases, and prescription drugs," the WHA concluded in its announcement. "These charges often come from more than one provider and are not on one bill."

To learn more:
- read the Milwaukee Business Journal article
- read the Wisconsin Hospital Association statement
- check out the PricePoint website