Healthcare Business News

North Carolina to post prices of hospital procedures, services

By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: August 22, 2013 - 3:45 pm ET

Amid growing pressure on lawmakers and providers to help consumers make sense of healthcare prices, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation that will now require the state's hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers to disclose what they're paid for 140 medical procedures and services.

The prices for 100 “common inpatient services,” 20 surgical procedures and 20 imaging procedures will be posted on the state Department of Health and Human Services website. The legislation also limits hospitals' ability to put liens on patients' homes and forbids state-owned hospitals from garnishing patients' wages to recoup debts.

Earlier this year, the CMS published data disclosing what hospitals charge and what Medicare pays them for common inpatient and outpatient procedures. Providers complained that the widely varying charges for the same services were misleading because the numbers rarely reflect what patients and insurers are billed, but the Obama administration said the disclosures were at least a step toward helping consumers make more informed healthcare decisions.

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The new North Carolina law, though, will shine a light on the actual prices paid by Medicare, Medicaid and the uninsured, as well as the average and range of prices paid by the top five insurers.

“For too long, North Carolina patients have been in the dark on what they can expect to pay for common medical procedures when they are admitted to a hospital,” McCrory said in a news release. “This new law gives patients and their doctors pricing information so they can make an informed financial decision with regard to their healthcare.”

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, also praised the bill for helping “people who are struggling with incomprehensible medical bills and unreasonable collection practices” and for requiring facilities to post their charity and financial assistance polices.

“We recommend that consumers shop around for a good deal, but our healthcare system doesn't make that easy to do,” Cooper said in a news release. “Giving consumers straightforward information on what medical services cost and what they owe will help them make better decisions about their healthcare.”

The North Carolina Hospital Association was less enthusiastic.

“Hospitals have been moving in this direction for some time now,” NCHA spokesman Don Dalton said in an e-mail. “We also desire to see lower healthcare costs. Unfortunately, as long as the state continues to pay hospitals less than our costs of caring for Medicaid patients—reducing hospital payments by almost $150 million more this year—and does nothing to address those who have no insurance, costs will continue to rise on businesses and patients who fund healthcare."

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks

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