Pittsburgh-area hospital joins the price transparency trend

A suburban Pittsburgh hospital has joined the growing number of healthcare facilities allowing patients to shop and compare prices on services.

St. Clair Hospital in Mount Lebanon, Pa., Monday unveiled a new tool, built by Experian, that offers cost estimates of deductibles, coinsurance and copays for more than 100 procedures ranging from blood tests to some surgeries.

In a news release announcing the tool, St. Clair touts that it is the first in the region to offer such transparency.

The hospital competes with regional hospital systems UPMC and Allegheny Health Network.

"St. Clair is committed to being a leader in high-value healthcare," Richard Chesnos, senior vice president and chief financial officer, said in the release. "In addition to our award-winning patient safety and clinical outcomes, and nation-leading patient satisfaction scores, St. Clair provides very cost-effective services, and we want our patients to feel secure knowing, upfront, how much their care will cost them."

St. Clair and others are looking for ways to appease consumers who often are dealing with high deductible plans, thought to control health spending by making consumers more aware of how much healthcare costs them and their insurers.

While the tool is meant for consumers, experts say tracking prices can help hospitals manage their costs, and those efforts have accelerated under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the ACA, the CMS has expanded the use of new financial incentives for hospitals to control costs, and private insurers have followed.

Out-of-pocket prices for the same service can vary sharply between hospitals. For example, a patient's out-of-pocket price for the same MRI test with the same CPT code can vary from $64 to $476, depending on the state, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.

The Pioneer Institute this week released the results of a survey that found consumers find it hard and not necessarily useful to get price quotes from hospitals.

The health policy think tank used mock consumers to test how accessible the information is.

Survey respondents found it “difficult and frustrating” to get the price of a common and standard imaging procedure. When provided, prices were sometimes inaccurate, the Boston-based Pioneer Institute found during its survey of 54 hospitals in six states.



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