Shopping around for affordable healthcare just got easier thanks to a new federal law that requires health care facilities to publish prices online. The law, which went into effect January 1, requires hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, psychiatric hospitals and critical access hospitals to post prices online for all the medical services they provide, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The new law may cause some initial sticker shock since these prices won’t reflect service discounts people receive through their insurers. It also will probably have little effect, at least initially, on where people receive health services. That’s because health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid all dictate which facilities are preferred providers and have the lowest out-of-pockets costs under their plans. Still, experts say that the increased transparency can give consumers more leverage in choosing providers and eventually lower costs. How low could those costs go? The change probably won’t be dramatic when you take into account that most healthcare institutions in the post-ACA ear are operating on a slim 3 to 4 percent profit margin. Plus rising insurance and managed care costs as well as low level Medicare reimbursement leave providers with little room for price adjustments. Still, even the smallest cuts can make a big difference when dealing with America’s expensive healthcare system.
But even if the new transparency laws result in more consumers shopping around for healthcare, it’s still important to remember to put quality of care above cost whenever possible. Consumers should look closely at factors such as an institution’s infection rates and overall incidence of medical errors—now the third leading cause of death in America. Fortunately, there is an easy way to compare objective hospital ratings.
Visit medicare.gov/hospitalcompare and/or www.hospitalsafetygrade.org and punch in your zip code to find the information you need make an informed healthcare decision. With the increased transparency, patients will have one more tool to help them receive the best care for the best price.