Beginning in 2019, Americans will no longer need to make 30 phone calls to figure out how much it will cost to deliver a baby or get an X-ray. According to Newsweek, a new federal rule will require hospitals across the country to list their prices online beginning on January 1, 2019.
Critical access hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities will soon be required to list the prices of the procedures, surgeries, and medical supplies they offer, including drugs and anesthesia. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 stipulated that medical costs be made public, but the new federal rule goes a step further and requires that this information to be posted online, allowing easy access to would-be patients.
This list of services and prices, called a chargemaster, has previously been difficult for prospective patients to access before undergoing a procedure or receiving a medical service. Patients usually only learn how much they've been charged after a claim has been sent to one’s insurance provider—or once they've received a shockingly high bill. Some hospitals say this is because their chargemasters contain proprietary information, while others say it would simply confuse patients.
For those who want to shop around and pick the hospital with the most affordable prices, it often requires calls to multiple medical facilities plus one’s healthcare provider—not to mention the patience needed to weather all the transfers and time spent on hold, as Vox reporter Johnny Harris found out while trying to figure out how much it would cost for his wife to give birth.
The new federal rule aims to make this information easier to find. The prices will need to be listed in a “machine-readable” format that lets users download it into a spreadsheet, and it will need to be updated at least once a year, according to NBC4's take on information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
However, patients are reminded that the actual cost may vary depending on the patient's specific health insurance or Medicare plan. Some nonprofit hospitals also factor one’s income into the equation when tallying up costs, so that should change the grand total, too. Even if it still requires a little guesswork on your part, this new transparency when it comes to health care costs is a welcome change.