Hospital price transparency requires more than just publishing chargemasters

In 2003, California passed a law requiring hospitals to disclose the price of 25 common procedures and their hospital “chargemasters,” books running to hundreds of pages that list retail prices for everything. The idea was to help consumers compare prices among hospitals. But it’s not working well. Some of the problems:

  • There’s no standard definitions for the procedures, so prices among hospitals aren’t comparable. For example, one hospital included professional fees in X-ray charges and another didn’t
  • The chargemasters are provided in raw form and consumers must pay $10 to obtain the data on CD-ROM
  • Data is not posted on a website
  • List prices aren’t really used for anything. Even self-pay patients often can get discounts

This experiment doesn’t bode well for consumers taking more responsibility for health care costs. However, it does create an opportunity for independent, non-governmental bodies or public/private partnerships to gather and interpret the data for the benefit of consumers.

Read more from the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal (State’s mandatory hospital price list useless, critics say)

July 19, 2005

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