Medical debt is one of the main reasons why someone would consider taking money out of their retirement account or even filing for bankruptcy.
Many times, surprise medical bills involve pre-planned medical care. But there is good news for those unsure about the cost of non-emergency procedures they need to get done.
“As of January 1 of this year, patients have been given the right to know prices in healthcare before we receive care from all the hospitals across the United States,” Cynthia Fisher said.
Fisher is the founder and chairman of patientrightsadvocate.org – a non-profit pushing for transparency in healthcare pricing.
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“Can you imagine standing at a grocery store and paying 10 times more for a gallon of milk and a bunch of bananas than the person in front of you? We wouldn’t tolerate it,” Fisher said.
This rule change was part of theAffordable Care Act and it was just implemented this year.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), hospitals are now “…required to provide clear, accessible pricing information online about the items and services they provide.”
Responding to every consumer complaint
CMS says the information should include discounted cash prices and payer-specific negotiated rates.
“That’s a huge game-changing shift,” Fisher said.
Fisher told NBC 6 only about a third of hospitals nationwide were in compliance.
In South Florida, her organization found Cleveland Clinic in Weston and South Miami Hospital were in compliance while Holy Cross was offering an incomplete list.
“We saw that they are not yet compliant, yet they’re trying,” Fisher said.
Holy Cross sent us a statement saying, in part, they are “…committed to continuing its proactive and meaningful price transparency approach…” adding that they “…have invested in new technology and are phasing in an upgrade to electronic medical records that will allow patients to understand and access accurate out-of-pocket estimates.”
Fisher, meanwhile, said she hopes the new federal requirement will empower consumers and help them avoid surprise medical bills.
“We should actually call our doctors’ offices or call the hospital or go online and search to get the discounted cash price or to see all of those negotiated rates and to compare our prices among hospitals or outpatient places where we get our services,” Fisher said. “So we have the right to actually pay cash, if we choose, or we have the right to save.”
NBC 6 Responds was able to find pricing information for each of the hospital systems mentioned in this story by visiting their websites and searching for the terms “hospital charges”.