Try shopping around for affordable hospital care like you would for a car or a house, and you'll surely hit a wall. Hospital bills are a huge expense in America, but the prices for specific services are often obscure until patients check out. Now, PBS reports that Medicare may soon require hospitals to post their standard prices and share medical records online.
Hospitals are already required to disclose their prices to the public, but actually tracking down a number can suck up more time and effort than customers have to invest. While making a video for Vox, it took reporter Johnny Harris two weeks and 30 phone calls to get an estimate for how much his wife's delivery of their child would cost. Under the new rules, such prices would be made clearly available on the internet so that third-party app developers could access them.
The change wouldn't automatically make shopping for hospitals as easy as comparing airfare prices. Patients would still be responsible for getting in touch with their health insurance provider to see how much of a hospital's listed price is covered and how much of it falls on them. Even then, the numbers patients get will likely be more of an estimate than a hard figure.
In addition to making pricing more transparent to customers, the proposed rule aims to make personal medical records more accessible as well. The hospitals that make the effort to present this information clearly, possibly by organizing bills from multiple providers into a single app, would receive benefits from Medicare.
The U.S. has some of the most expensive healthcare in the world: In 2016, Americans collectively spent $3.4 trillion on medical costs. For many people, high medical bills are unavoidable, but if the proposed rule goes into effect (most likely in 2019), it could at least make them less of a surprise.