Analysis: Pulling Back Curtain On Hospital Prices Adds New Wrinkle In Cost Control

January 28, 2019, KHN, Elisabeth Rosenthal - As President Donald Trump was fighting with Congress over the shutdown and funding for a border wall, his administration implemented a new rule that could be a game changer for health care. Starting this month, hospitals must publicly reveal the contents of their master price lists - called “chargemasters” - online. These are the prices that most patients never notice because their insurers negotiate them down or they appear buried as line items on hospital bills. What has long been shrouded in darkness is now being thrown into the light. For the moment, these lists won’t seem very useful to the average patient - and they have been criticized for that reason. They are often hundreds of pages long, filled with medical codes and abbreviations. Each document is an overwhelming compendium listing a rack rate for every little item a hospital dispenses and every service it performs: a blood test for anemia. The price of lying in the operating suite and recovery room (billed in 15-minute intervals). The scalpel. The drill bit. The bag of IV salt water. The Tylenol pill. No item is too small to be bar coded and charged.

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