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Next Year, Hospitals Will Be Forced to Publicly Publish Their Prices

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When one goes out to eat, there is hardly ever a chance for “sticker shock.” Being surprised by what you’re going to see on your bill at a restaurant is all but impossible because menus are almost always provided, and each menu will usually give you an itemized breakdown for what you can expect to be charged. The advantage of this practice is that both the customer and the service provider are both well aware of what will be charged, and the customer can go somewhere else if they don’t feel like paying the prices they see.

Almost every for profit business has some kind of “menu” in their establishment for the same reason that restaurants use menus. It’s an equitable arrangement that exposes businesses to more competition, but perhaps most importantly, it keeps customers from from feeling mislead in the slightest. However, there’s one place that historically would never show you a menu of services they provide, which helped them charge, basically, whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, and those places are called “hospitals.”

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At a hospital, you’re never given a list of surgery options from the luxury to the basic. You’re never given a pricing breakdown of just how much each opiate they prescribe is going to cost you. You could easily argue that one of the least pro-market capitalistic ventures then is a hospital, because the consumer has been all but robbed of their ability to use the most powerful tool in their arsenal — shopping around.

As of January 1st, 2019, though, that all changes.

Starting Jan. 1, every hospital nationwide will be required to post standard charges online for every item and every service they provide. That includes everything from drugs and casts to organ transplants and anesthesia. (WCMH-TV)

By law, hospitals will be required to update their pricing menus yearly, further cementing the notion of “what you see is what you get.” Hospitals had fought publicly disclosing their pricing vigorously in the past, claiming their pricing contained proprietary information like trade secrets. But the ACA cast aside that reasoning, and instead, forces hospitals to publish the information in a format that allows patients to understand and even download the pricing.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal rule requires hospitals to post the information in a “machine-readable” format, allowing consumers to download it into a spreadsheet. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some hospitals are already trying to prepare consumers for a bit of what you or I might call “bait and switch,” but they claim can vary wildly from state to state and based on insurance rate negotiations.

Some hospital officials are warning that the published prices are likely to bear no resemblance to the actual prices, which can vary depending on the rates the hospitals negotiate with insurance companies. 

Gee, it’s almost like having so many different payers in the healthcare system could be quite confusing and convoluted, and if there was a way to streamline it, to where there’s a single payer…ah, there I go applying critical thinking though. Sorry about that. Forgot which country we were talking about for a moment.

We outlawed critical thinking in the 1890’s I believe.

All of this pro-market, pro-consumer change was brought about by the Affordable Care Act, called “Obamacare” by many. Part of the ACA included regulations that required all hospitals nationwide to post their pricing schedules. I’m not exactly sure how a pro-capitalist mechanism got into such an obvious communist program (according to my red hat wearing uncle) as Obamacare, but as someone who doesn’t like to be ripped off, it sure does feel authentic to end this thing with two simple words.

Thanks, Obama…care.


Writer/comedian James Schlarmann is the founder of The Political Garbage Chute and his work has been featured on The Huffington Post. You can follow James on Facebook and Instagram, but not Twitter because he has a potty mouth.

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