Hospitals across the country, including Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, rang in the new year with a federal mandate to make a list of standard charges transparent and available to the public.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act required hospitals to make this list available to the public, but until last week, hospitals were not required to publish them. The new mandate marks an effort by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to improve price transparency in health care.
According to Owensboro Health Director of Marketing and Public Relations Brian Hamby, OHRH has known that this was coming since August of 2018, and prepared accordingly. Owensboro Health complied with the mandate, making their price information available on Jan. 1, the day the requirement went into effect.
Hamby said Owensboro Health had offered some previous work in price transparency, most commonly offerings patients upfront costs on lab tests and diagnostic imaging tests. Charge information related to procedures has always been available to patients at either the Pleasant Valley Road hospital or the Frederica Street business center.
“More and more commonly, patients are shopping around, and we’ve worked to provide them with that information to the best of our ability,” Hamby said.
Prices listed on the Owensboro Health website will be an estimate cost, not in context of insurance or what patients are likely to pay. Making more specific costs available is challenging because of just how varied healthcare can be, according to Hamby.
“What works for one patient may not work for another due to insurance or variations in services,” Hamby said. “An example of that could be during a natural birth. If the baby doesn’t turn, which does happen, then an emergency cesarean section might be necessary. Those kinds of factors change the charges. We can’t predict everything for every patient, but we’ll do our best to give patients an accurate estimate of their anticipated charges.”
The rule set out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires hospitals to post a machine-readable format as a digitally accessible document and including only formats that can be easily read and imported into a computer.
“We weren’t satisfied with simply uploading a spreadsheet,” Hamby said. “Healthcare is complex, and that makes it overwhelming for patients and their loved ones. One of Owensboro Health’s priorities in this region is making healthcare accessible, and that includes providing information in a way that patients can understand. Our site will offer up that information in a way that is intended to be easy for patients to understand and use. We want this to be a useful tool that helps patients.”
The federal mandate requires hospitals to update their public lists annually, which Hamby said will be a minimum for Owensboro Health, as they will update sooner if necessary.
Hamby says that overall, this is a positive change for OHRH patients.
“Patients these days have the ability to be better-prepared and better-educated than ever before, thanks to the internet,” Hamby said. “Empowering our patients, helping them have a better understanding of their healthcare, can definitely be a good thing for our patients and we want to help make sure that it is.”
Hamby recommends that patients review prices online and call Owensboro Health, where they can talk with staff who can help give an understanding of how the charges work and what to better expect.