After reviewing the findings from a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dark Daily reports that “most state websites aimed at transparency in healthcare pricing [are] inaccurate and basically useless in helping consumers shop for services.” This coming from a respectable publication, we’re left to assume the data was abysmal.
What’s the problem?
Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revealed the arbitrary nature of hospital prices by publishing hospital-specific costs and outcomes data for 3,000 hospitals nationwide. This push towards complete transparency is supposed to help consumers shop comparatively for hospitals based on both quality and value.
The JAMA report says that in recent years, states have established online resources to help consumers compare or estimate the cost of healthcare services. However, a rigorous analysis of 62 publicly available state websites, lead by Jeffrey T. Kullgren, MD, an expert from the Veterans Administration Center for Clinical Management Research and the University of Michigan Health System (U-M), found that most of these websites just report the billed charges, not what patients were expected to pay.
What was the bad news?
According to Dark Daily, “The study found that most websites focus on prices for in-hospital care, which often cannot be planned for ahead of time.” These sites rarely provided pricing for predictable outpatient services such as lab and radiology tests. Limited info regarding quality of services was included with price information, which makes the prices listed relatively useless since differences in quality may account for price variations.
“There’s growing enthusiasm for improving transparency of prices for health services to help people be well-informed consumers and make better decisions about their care,” said Kullgren. “The problem is that most of the information that’s out there isn’t particularly useful to patients themselves.
Was there any good news?
One website out of 62 showed tremendous promise, The new Hampshire HealthCost. The website lets consumers plug in their health insurance plan and automatically generates a customized estimate of the cost for specific healthcare services at different facilities in nearby communities.
What Was Concluded?
“We’ve come a long way in increasing transparency about cost and quality for consumers over the last decade, but we’re still not reporting the key information patients need to maximize the value of their healthcare spending,” Kullgren concluded, noting that his research team’s goal was to identify opportunities for improvement that can “empower consumers to choose care that’s right for them.”