Tucson hospitals now post all costs for services, but it can be confusing
By Mikayla Mace Arizona Daily Star | Jan 22, 2019 Updated Jan 25, 2019
On Jan. 1, a new federal rule went into effect requiring hospitals to post prices for all services they provide in a searchable format on their websites.
The rule was intended to make hospital pricing more transparent and comparable across hospitals. The downloadable lists show all hospital charges by the item and can be thousands, or tens-of-thousands, of lines long.
All the hospitals in Tucson have the cost spreadsheets — called chargemasters — available on their websites, but they can be hard to find.
“The federal guidance was easy to comply with,” said Tucson Medical Center officials, but the long list of posted prices might not be easy for patients to use.
“In the same way I’ll drive extra miles to get cheaper gas, I like the idea of transparency in price ... but it’s very hard for people to make decisions based on just this information,” said Daniel Derksen, associate vice president for health equity, outreach and interprofessional activities for University of Arizona Health Sciences.
Each item is named using abbreviations or medical terminology, and inconsistencies in naming make price comparison between hospitals difficult, if not impossible. “It’s hard to make heads of tails of it,” Derksen said.
There’s another problem. To get a clear picture of what the costs will be, a person would have to know all the individual charges involved in the procedure.
“You might come in and have an IV, but there is a solution and drug that goes with that and tubing and a needle and someone to give it to you, and these are all listed separately,” said Maria Persons, TMC’s director of revenue cycle.
Arizona Daily Star reporters attempted to price compare common procedures, such as a colonoscopy, but were unable to do so, as charges for a single procedure are broken down by individual components.
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