New federal rule to require hospitals to post service costs online

A new federal rule going into effect January 1, 2019, will require hospitals nationwide to post their standard charges for items and services in a format that's easily accessible on a computer in an attempt to protect patients from unforeseen costs.

The rule can be traced to the Fiscal Year 2019 Medicare Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System, introduced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) back in April. CMS said the changes were proposed to "empower patients through better access to hospital price information."

A previous rule from CMS already required this information to be public, but the new rule being implemented in the new year will force hospitals to have it all online in a "machine-readable format," or one that can be "easily imported/read into a computer system," according to CMS. Essentially, it means it will need to be easily accessible online.

Many local hospitals are already compliant and won't have to change anything when the new year kicks in.

For example, an official with Valley Children's Hospital said they've been transparent for years on their website, and C.J. Bhalla, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said "Kaiser Permanente's practices are already aligned with the new federal law and we will be fully compliant with the new federal requirements when they take effect January 1, 2019. We support transparency in pricing for the benefit of our members and consumers. In fact, in June of this year, we posted charge information on public and member websites to comply with California law."

That charge information, along with pricing for other local hospitals, is already available on the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development website. Once there, just search for the hospital's name under the "Find Chargemaster Documents" section, or click here to be taken to that portion of the website. Users can then compare prices of local hospitals when it comes to medicine and treatments.

A survey of 150 healthcare participants by PMMC found that 92% of those providers are either "somewhat" or "very" concerned about how their changes will be perceived by the public, and while supporters argue that the rule will help patients avoid surprise costs, detractors say it won't have much of an impact because the prices do not factor in insurance.

Hospitals that are not compliant will need to be by January 1. For frequently asked questions regarding the upcoming changes, click here.
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