Metro Health posts service prices online

May 2, 2009
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Metro Health Hospital has become the second hospital in West Michigan and just the third in the state to disseminate online the charges for its services.

Metro Health started posting charge master average prices of common procedures on its Web site, www.metrohealth.net, in April, at the same time that it announced discounts of up to 40 percent for the uninsured, in the face of a surge of uncollected bills as unemployment grew beyond 13 percent in the state.

Under the MetroCare program, the listing includes the charge master average, the value of the discount for the uninsured and the average price for the uninsured.

“Price transparency has been kind of out there for health care organizations for a couple years now,” Metro Health CFO Tim Susterich said. “Our board and Finance Committee and senior management team has been toying with this for some time.”

Also posted is quality information, which Susterich said is important information for health care consumers. He said the list includes only the most common procedures and covers hospital and Metro Health Outpatient Center charges only. He said information about cancer treatment is expected to be added in the future.

Susterich said that the discounted prices for the uninsured bring them fairly close to the typical costs paid by commercial insurers, rates which are negotiated between the hospital and the insurer.

Jim Lee, vice president of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said that while hospitals are supportive of pricing transparency, few have posted the information and consumers have been slow to embrace it.

“There are challenges, obviously, especially if you have insurance,” Lee said. “The question comes down to, how do you provide information that becomes meaningful or useful to the consumer?”

Challenges remain with posting prices online, he added. For example, without regular updates, information can quickly become dated, and it can be difficult to compare prices from hospital to hospital.

“Less than 9 percent of consumers are using the Internet for health information,” Lee said. “They still go to friends and family for perspectives on health care.”

That can make hospitals — facing new challenges to their bottom lines during the current recession — reluctant to invest in exposing price information to the public.

Spectrum Health first posted pricing information in 2006 and has updated its offering several times, according to spokeswoman Carrie Manders.

Today it shows average hospital charges for outpatient and inpatient procedures plus imaging services for Medicare patients, Medicaid patients and patients with insurance. In February, Spectrum Health added an estimator of out-of-pocket hospital costs for customers of Priority Health, the health plan it owns.

Oakwood Hospital in suburban Detroit also posts pricing information online.

The lists include average hospital charges only, not doctor’s charges, and may vary dramatically by individual case.

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