” The new study..compared the prices hospitals posted online (as required under new federal regulations) with the prices obtained in phone calls conducted by the team posing as potential patients.
They contacted 60 hospitals across the country, a mix of top-ranked facilities, hospitals that primarily serve low-income people, and the other hospitals in between. They asked about two procedures for which comparison shopping is more common: vaginal childbirth and a brain MRI.”
“It was rare for the advertised price on the web to be the same as the price quoted over the phone. Less than 20 percent of hospitals provided the same price through an online price estimator as they did when someone spoke to a member of the billing department. In many cases, the disparity was significant, with more than a 50 percent price difference depending on whether you checked on a website or called for a quote.
And in a handful of cases, the price more than doubled depending on how you asked. At two hospitals, MRIs were listed online at $2,000, but “patients” were given a price of more than $5,000 when they called. Five hospitals offered a price of $10,000 for vaginal childbirth over the phone, but the price posted online were twice that much.
There didn’t seem to be a clear pattern of which quotes were higher. Sometimes they were higher over the phone, sometimes higher on the website.
The researchers said they took pains to make sure they were getting apples-to-apples comparisons, going so far as to give specific billing codes during their scripted calls with hospital staff. It didn’t matter.”
“Research had already found prices for the same services vary wildly at different hospitals. The top-line findings of this new study reveal that it can be difficult to even determine what the price for a given service is at a given hospital. That is a problem both for the 10 percent of the US population that is uninsured as well as people enrolled in high-deductible health plans, which are becoming more common.”
“the researchers made one other note in their study: They found poor correlation between brain MRI and vaginal childbirth prices within an individual hospital. In other words, some facilities would have high MRI prices compared to others but low prices for delivering babies — with no discernible economic reason for that disparity. It’s chaos.”