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Patients get more financial information

By Staff | Jan 3, 2009

A new piece of legislation took effect on the first day of 2009 requiring hospitals and health facilities to provide uninsured patients with an estimate of charges and a list of a facilities’ discounted or charity care policies.
The new measure brings transparency to hospital billing, according to experts, making patients aware of what services will cost, options for payment, as well as allowing them to shop around at other facilities offering the same procedure for less.
Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association, said the association was the first health care group to support the bill. He also said most hospitals currently provide the information mandated in the new law so these facilities won’t experience lengthy transitional periods smeared with increased costs or long staff hours.
“We support it because we believe in transparency and people, if they have questions about what something costs, hospitals should feel free and be willing to provide that information,” said Rueben.
Lee Memorial Health System Board Member Marilyn Stout said she supports transparency and that patients should be able to know what their charges will be as long as there aren’t any complications.
“In light of the fact that more and more transparency will be required by the CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services), I believe in transparency and what we do,” said Stout.
Healthcare costs continue to increase each year. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the health industry’s share of the economy rose from 7.2 to 16.6 percent since 1970 — from approximately $356 per person 40 years ago to $7,868 today.
While prices continue to skyrocket, the Consumer’s Right to Information Act mandates healthcare facilities to provide patients with a copy of its discounted or charity care policy. Patients also will be given an estimate of charges beforehand and organizations such as Florida Health Finder will compile the costs of no less than 150 common procedures.
The estimates are helpful but won’t guarantee a set price for patients. Reuben explained that estimates are general and aren’t formulated in concert with a patient’s insurance company. Therefore, patients could see their estimates change drastically once they contact their respective provider.
Reuben also said most patients will choose to shop around for those rare, elective procedures that are more costly.
“It’s a general indication of what something might cost, but it doesn’t tell the individual what it will cost, but it’s better than nothing,” said Rueben. “It doesn’t take into account co-pays or deductibles.”
Reuben said the bill doesn’t mandate enhanced cooperation between hospitals and insurance companies, but that is something that could be facilitated in the future.
“We would be happy to work with insurance companies to figure out a way to do this together to give people something more useful and easier to get out,” he said.
Increasing transparency with billing could motivate patients who wouldn’t normally visit a doctor because of costs to receive medical care. According to a study by The Common Wealth Fund, a private healthcare advocate, 54 percent of chronically ill Americans do not receive care, prescriptions or visit a doctor because of healthcare costs.
The law won’t decrease costs but it may empower patients with knowledge of their bills.