Californians Struggle To Find Accurate Online Medical Pricing Data

California residents are having difficulty obtaining accurate price estimates for medical procedures despite a state law requiring hospitals to publish average charges for common procedures on a state website, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Barriers To Finding Accurate Pricing

Although the law -- enacted in 2006 -- requires hospitals to publicly post average charges for common medical procedures, most facilities do not list prices on their own websites, where residents are more likely to seek cost information.

In addition, the prices listed on the state Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development website often are not what people actually pay for a procedure. Insured patients would pay a smaller amount than listed on the site, depending on the price negotiated by their insurer. In addition, prices provided by hospitals contacted by the Times often did not include physician costs or other related expenses.

David Byrnes, spokesperson for OSHPD, said the agency does not have the authority to request additional hospital data beyond billing charges.

Meanwhile, insurers cannot provide detailed data that include specific names of hospitals or clinics because they would be in violation of contracts with health care providers.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D) said he wants more consumers to have access to insurers' pricing information. He said, "Consumers don't really know the health-cost consequences of their decisions," adding, "and they have more of their money at stake."

Pending Legislation

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) has offered a bill that would require hospitals to disclose all potential charges for medical procedures -- including all physician and lab fees -- in certain cases. The Senate is scheduled to conduct a second hearing on the legislation later this month.

The California Medical Association and the California Hospital Association are concerned about the measure. The groups say hospitals should not be responsible for providing physician charges because doctors are independent contractors and cannot be employed by hospitals under state law.

The California Medical Association says insurance companies are better positioned to assist residents with questions about out-of-pocket costs.

Molly Weedn, spokesperson for the group, said, "We have to ask whether we want physicians focusing on paperwork or treating patients" (Terhune, Los Angeles Times, 4/15).

Charles Everett
Full transparency of payments made to (and accepted by) physicians, imaging centers, endoscopy centers, labs and even hospitals, not charges made by these providers will enhance shopping and absolutely contribute to lower health costs.

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