Transparent Hospital Pricing Exposes Wild Fluctuation, Even Within Miles

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The federal government’s new rule requiring hospitals to post prices for their services is intended to allow patients to shop around and compare prices, a step toward price transparency that has generated praise and skepticism.

Kaiser Health News examined the price lists — known in hospital lingo as “chargemasters” — of the largest acute care hospitals in several large cities.

Prices varied widely on some basic procedures, even for basic charges. For instance, the list price on a liter of basic saline solution for intravenous use ranged from $56 to $472.50, nearly seven times as much. A brain MRI with contrast was priced from $1,720 to $8,800 at the hospitals. And they varied widely even when comparing nearby hospitals.

The new rule mandates that the chargemasters be available on the hospital website in a machine-readable format, but not all hospitals make them easy to find, and understanding them is a bigger obstacle.

(Story continues below.)

KHN senior correspondent Julie Appleby and California Healthline’s Barbara Feder Ostrov recently wrote about this new rule and found price lists befuddling to most anyone without an advanced medical degree.

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