In order to create transparency between healthcare providers and their patients, the federal government began this year to ask hospitals nationwide to publish a price list on their websites.
But more than seven months since they were due to deliver those numbers, a recent report shows the majority of facilities in the United States and New Hampshire have failed, including Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, Monadnock Community Hospital at Peterborough and the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
And while the report’s author, nonprofit Patient Rights Advocate, said the missing numbers were a disservice to patients, local hospital officials said they believed the numbers they published were correct.
“Based on our price comparison tool, we believed or intended to comply with the law,” said Dan Gross, chief financial officer of Cheshire Medical Center.
Starting January 1, all hospitals in the United States – online and searchable – should be offering their rates for 300 common services such as x-rays and lab tests, as well as the amount hospitals are willing to accept cash and their insurance-negotiated rates.
The goal of the ordinance – launched by the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – is to give patients the ability not only to see ahead of time how much procedures and appointments will cost, but those costs with others too Hospitals and healthcare providers compare providers to make sure they are getting the best deal.
“For the first time ever, we as consumers will no longer be blind to prices at all,” said Cynthia Fisher, founder and chairwoman of Patient Rights Advocate and one of the report’s authors. â… If we get prizes, healthcare will be a lot easier. We all know how to shop, we just weren’t given the information. “
Hospitals that fail to comply can face fines of up to $ 300 a day, although President Joe Biden is working to increase that number to better hold them accountable.
A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said before hospitals are fined they will be sent a written warning describing the specific violations. According to the spokesman, the agency began issuing these letters in April.
Hospitals have 90 days from receipt of the letter to correct the violations before being fined.
The Patient Rights Advocate report published in July found that between Jan.
In New Hampshire, Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin and Exeter Hospital were the only hospitals that met the requirement.
Failure to comply could mean that the hospital didn’t publish any numbers at all, or that only a number or two are missing.
For example, the Brattleboro Memorial website has a price estimation tool – one of the requirements – that patients can use to select the type of benefit expected and their insurance provider, including Medicaid and Medicare. If a patient does not have insurance, they can also select this to view the expenses.
According to the report, Brattleboro lacks the following mandatory information: the highest and lowest rates the hospital has with insurers, a list of benefits and a machine-readable list (usually an Excel spreadsheet) of all the hospital’s payers and plans, and discounted cash prices.
Andre Bissonnette, chief financial officer of the Brattleboro Memorial, said the hospital interpreted the ordinance as “either or,” meaning it had to publish either the price comparison tool or the machine-readable file, but not both.
“The understanding is that this corresponds to the letter of the regulation … [and] I think that’s actually pretty patient-friendly, âhe said.
The hospital plans to post the remaining numbers on its website, according to Bissonnette, despite not having an exact date as of Thursday.
However, he argued that the pricing tool – which he believed was posted on the Brattleboro Memorial website in the first few weeks of January – would be the most helpful for patients and that, to the best of his knowledge, “no complaints” about the information on the hospital website.
Brattleboro had not received a notification or fine from the federal government for its non-compliance by Friday, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
In Keene, the Cheshire Medical Center – as well as the other hospitals in the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system – were also considered non-compliant, according to the report.
The hospital’s website is missing the minimum and maximum rates negotiated with the insurers, as well as a machine-readable list of all the hospital’s payers and plans.
Like Brattleboro, a price comparison tool is available in the âpatient portalâ for patients, which was also posted in January, according to spokeswoman Heather Atwell.
And again, much like Brattleboro, Chief Financial Officer Gross said the information on Cheshire Medical’s website is “the most helpful thing we can do for patients.”
He added that the hospital was unsure whether it could post negotiated rates with insurers on its website as these contracts “traditionally” contain confidentiality clauses.
But even when all the necessary information was released, Gross said hospital prices are not that dry.
“There could be complications or other factors at play and it’s pretty important to really understand the patient’s current condition … and so any price estimates would not be helpful if they were deemed clinically unnecessary,” said Gross.
As of Friday, the hospital had also not received a fine or a violation, according to Atwell. Still, Gross said, Cheshire Medical plans to post the remaining information on its website by mid-August.
“I think the helpful part, for the consumers, for the patients, is what we’re already doing,” said Gross. “The publication of the tariffs actually negotiated, which can be confusing instead of helpful for patients, [but] we’ll do it anyway. “
The Monadnock Community Hospital did not make anyone available for an interview for this article.