Study: Hospitals Avoid Listing Prices
Washington — Hospitals can easily tell you how much it will cost to leave your car in the parking lot. But how much it will cost for a simple test? That, a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests, is much more difficult to track down.
Two researchers in Philadelphia reached out to 20 local hospitals, asking them how much they would charge for an electrocardiogram — a pretty simple test to measure the heartbeat rate. It doesn’t involve multiple doctors, nor is there any chance of a complication.
And that was key to the study: The authors wanted to look at one of the most basic medical tests and see if hospitals could provide a price for it.
During phone calls, the researchers would say that they were uninsured and planning to pay for the test themselves, and they asked how much it would cost.
Three hospitals were able to provide that information.
By way of contrast, 19 hospitals were able to respond to a query about how much it would cost to park at the hospital, even when some of those parking prices had a few variables.
“The provision of parking prices would suggest that hospitals can indeed answer telephone queries about costs — when they want to,” authors Jillian Bernstein and Joseph Bernstein write.
This study is a follow-up to one that Joseph Bernstein worked on in which he and his co-authors called hospitals to ask how much a hip replacement would cost.
As in this study, about 10 percent were able to provide a price. The idea here was to test out whether that had to do with the complexity of the procedure. A hip replacement’s price could vary if, for example, there was an unexpected complication.
This new study suggests that it’s really not about the complexity — that, overall, hospitals just aren’t good at providing prices.