It's one of healthcare's greatest embarrassments: Hospitals, health systems and physician groups spend billions of dollars overhauling and streamlining their information systems, yet they can't get billing right.
Patients are tired of inflated prices on itemized charges, confusing billing statements and sloppy overlaps between services rendered and payments received. They view the seemingly nonsensical billing system as heavy on paper but light on enlightenment.
It's easy to see why the Tennessee Court of Appeals decided in favor of a woman who sued the hospital where she had a hysterectomy for overinflating charges not covered by insurance. In the original 1992 suit, the woman said she was charged $5.25 for a disposable razor and $4.75 for four ounces of hydrogen peroxide, prices about as customary and reasonable as a $5 aspirin. The case was expanded into a class-action suit in 1997.
Providers must use integrity and accuracy when they itemize patient billing. Hospital financial managers decry the goofy payment system, saying it is skewed in favor of government and private insurers. Yet the providers are the ones hankering for a more touchy-feely relationship with the patient.
Perhaps it's time for the American Hospital Association and other trade groups to tackle the issue. If providers cannot make sufficient improvements, regulators and politicians gladly will.