3+ clicks needed to find online price lists of largest hospitals, Quartz says

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/3-clicks-needed-to-find-online-price-lists-of-largest-hospitals-quartz-says.html?origin=cfoe&utm_source=cfoe

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The websites of 75 percent of the nation’s 115 biggest hospitals required three or more clicks to find their chargemaster, according to an analysis by Quartz.

Five things to know:

1. As of Jan. 1, hospitals are required to post their standard charges online under a CMS price transparency rule. They must present the information in a machine-readable format that can be easily imported into a computer system and update the information at least annually. On Jan. 10, CMS Administrator Seema Verma acknowledged that the information hospitals are posting “isn’t patient-specific,” but she said the federal government still believes the requirement “is an important first step.”

2. For its analysis, Quartz surveyed the websites of 115 of the largest U.S. hospitals, which receive 20 percent of all Medicare and Medicaid hospital funding. The reporters said “after spending an inordinate amount of time clicking through pages,” they found 105 hospitals’ lists online.

3. “Even among those hospitals that are technically compliant with the new rule, the vast majority don’t make it especially easy for the average person to find their pricing information. We found that most price lists are buried under many sub-menus or at the very bottom of a long page scroll,” the reporters said.

4. For six hospitals the reporters had trouble finding price lists for, they were able to track them down through a Google search pairing the name of each hospital with phrases like “price list” or “chargemaster.” Another four hospitals whose lists remained elusive to the reporters were contacted via email or phone, with three — Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center, Allentown, Pa.-based Lehigh Valley Hospital and Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia — not replying to Quartz at the time of writing.

5. Even for hospitals whose online lists were more accessible, some required hundreds of clicks to find a particular item, according to the publication. For example, Louisville, Ky.-based Norton Hospital’s 1,560-page price list had three separate pages for “treatment rooms.” At least five hospitals also requested a user’s email and name to access the data.

“In many instances, the price list is published on illogical pages. Most hospital sites have a ‘billing’ section, but, for example, the Methodist Hospital in San Antonio decided to put its standard rates on the legal page while [Indianapolis-based] Indiana University Health has placed it under the Frequently Asked Questions section of its website. Baptist Hospital in Miami published their chargemaster as fine print,” according to Quartz.

For the full Quartz report, click here.

 

 

 

As Hospitals Post Sticker Prices Online, Most Patients Will Remain Befuddled

https://khn.org/news/as-hospitals-post-sticker-prices-online-most-patients-will-remain-befuddled/amp/

As of Jan. 1, in the name of transparency, the Trump administration required that all hospitals post their list prices online. But what is popping up on medical center websites is a dog’s breakfast of medical codes, abbreviations and dollar signs — in little discernible order — that may initially serve to confuse more than illuminate.

Anyone who has ever tried to find out in advance how much a hospital test, procedure or stay will cost knows the frustration: “Nope, can’t tell you” or “It depends” are common replies from insurers and medical centers.

While more information is always welcome, the new data will fall short of providing most consumers with usable insight.

That’s because the price lists displayed this week, called chargemasters, are massive compendiums of the prices set by each hospital for every service or drug a patient might encounter. To figure out what, for example, a trip to the emergency room might cost, a patient would have to locate and piece together the price for each component of their visit — the particular blood tests, the particular medicines dispensed, the facility fee and the physician’s charge, and more.

“I don’t think it’s very helpful,” said Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management. “There are about 30,000 different items on a chargemaster file. As a patient, you don’t know which ones you will use.”

And there’s this: Other than the uninsured and people who are out-of-network, few actually pay full charges.

The requirement to post charges online in a machine-readable format, such as a Microsoft Excel file, came in a 2018 guidance from the Trump administration that builds on rules in the Affordable Care Act. Hospitals have some leeway in deciding how to present the information — and currently there is no penalty for failing to post.

“This is a small step” toward price transparency amid other ongoing efforts, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said in a speech in July.

But finding the chargemaster information on a hospital’s website takes diligence. Patients can try typing the hospital’s name into a search engine, along with the keywords “billing” or “chargemaster.” That might produce a link.

Even when consumers do locate the lists, they might be stymied by seemingly incomprehensible abbreviations.

The University of California San Francisco Medical Center’s chargemaster, for example, includes a $378 charge for “Arthrocentesis Aspir&/Inj Small Jt/Bursa w/o Us,” which is basically draining fluid from the knee.

At Sentara in Hampton Roads, Va., there’s a $307 charge for something described as a LAY CLOS HND/FT=<2.5CM. What? Turns out that is the charge for a small suture in surgery.

Which services, treatments, drugs or procedures a patient will face in a hospital stay is often unknowable. And the charge listed is just one component of a total bill. Put simply, an MRI scan of the abdomen has related costs, such as the charge for the radiologist who reads the exam.

Even something as seemingly straightforward as an uncomplicated childbirth can’t easily be calculated by looking at the list.

Comparisons between hospitals for the same care can also be difficult.

An uncomplicated vaginal delivery charge at the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus is $3,466.

Looking for that same information on the Minnesota Mayo Clinic’s online chargemaster page shows two listings, one for $3,030, described as “labor and delivery level 1 short” and the other for $5,236, described as “labor and delivery level 2 long.” But, what’s a short labor? What’s a long one? How is a patient who didn’t go to med school supposed to know the difference?

Also, those are just the charges for the actual delivery. There are also per-day room charges for mom and the newborn, not to mention additional charges for medications, physicians and other treatments.

To get at the total estimated charge, California requires hospitals to report charges for a select number of such “bundles” of care, called “diagnosis-related groups,” or DRGs, in Medicare jargon.

At the University of California-San Francisco’s hospital, for example, there are two chargemaster line items for vaginal childbirth: One is $5,497 and the other is $12,632. But there’s no indication how these differ. Consumers might then turn to the “bundled” cost based on those DRGs, where the ancillary costs are included. That lists the total charge for an uncomplicated childbirth at an astounding $53,184.

A UCSF spokeswoman said no officials were available to comment on this figure.

Though chargemaster rates are quite different from the lower, negotiated rates that insurers pay, they do become the basis for what patients pay who are without insurance or who are treated at hospitals outside their insurer’s network. Out-of-network patients are often surprised when they get what are called “balance bills” for the difference between what their insurer pays toward their care and those full charges.

Still, even knowing chargemaster rates “would be entirely unhelpful” in fighting a high balance bill, said Barak Richman, a law professor at Duke University who has written extensively about balance bills and hospital charges.

“Chargemasters are enormous spreadsheets with incredibly complicated codes that no one short of a billing expert would be able to make sense of,” he said.

Nevertheless, some experts say that merely making the charges public shines a light on the often very high — and widely varying — prices set by facilities.

Even if those charges are only “what hospitals would like to receive,” posting them publicly could make hospitals “totally embarrassed by the prices,” said Anderson at Hopkins.

Billing expert George Nation, a finance professor at Lehigh University, said that rather than posting chargemaster lists, hospitals should be required to provide the average prices they accept from insurers. Hospitals generally would oppose that, saying negotiated rates are a trade secret.

It’s unclear that the lists will have much impact. “It’s been the norm here in California for over a decade,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association. Even so, “from a practical standpoint, I’m not sure how useful this information is,” she said. “What an individual pays to [the] hospital is going to be based on what their insurer covers.”

That could include such things as the annual deductible, whether the facility or physicians involved in the care are in-network and other details.

“The hospital piece is just a small piece,” said Ariel Levin, senior associate director for state issues at the American Hospital Association.

Still, “the biggest concern is it falls short of that end goal because it really doesn’t help consumers understand what they are going to be liable for,” she said.

 

 

 

 

The Burgeoning Role Of Venture Capital In Health Care

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20181218.956406/full/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=ACA+Contraceptive+Coverage+Mandate+Litigation%3B+Venture+Capital+In+Health+Care%3B+Telehealth+Evidence%3A+A+Rapid+Review&utm_campaign=HAT&#038;

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The US health care system relies heavily on private markets. While private insurers, provider organizations, and drug and device companies are familiar to many, little is known about the increasing presence of venture capital in today’s delivery system. The growth of venture capital and venture capital -backed, early-stage companies (startups) deserves the attention of patients and policy makers because advancements in medicine are no longer exclusively born from providers within the delivery system and increasingly from innovators outside of it.

While venture capital -backed startups in digital health offer opportunities to affect the cost and quality of care, often by challenging prevailing modes of care delivery, they pose potential risks to patient care and raise important questions for policy makers. To date, however, an analytic framework for understanding the role of venture capital in medicine is lacking. 

A Brief History

Venture capital firms provide funding to startups judged to have potential to disrupt existing industries in exchange for ownership and some control over strategy and operations. Venture capital businesses have recently funded hundreds of startups developing technology-enabled digital health products, including wearable devices, mobile health applications, telemedicine, and personalized medicine tools. Between 2010 and 2017, the value of investments in digital health increased by 858 percent, and the number of financing deals in this sector increased by 412 percent; more than $41.5 billion has been invested in digital health this decade (see Exhibit 1). This growth far exceeds the growth of total venture capital funding (166 percent) and total number of venture capital deals (50 percent) (in all fields) in the overall economy, as well as growth in health care spending (34 percent). In 2017 alone, venture capital firms invested more than $11.5 billion in digital health, from patient-facing devices to provider-facing practice management software to payer-facing data analysis services.

Exhibit 1: Venture Capital Funding For Digital Health Versus US Health Care Spending

Sources: Data are from StartUp Health Insights 2017 Year End Report and the National Health Expenditure (NHE) Accounts Team. Notes: Dollars invested (blue bars) have units of billions. The NHE plot is expressed in trillions (T) of dollars. A deal is a distinct agreement reached between venture capital investors and a startup company, typically including parameters such as the amount of money invested and equity involved in a given startup company. 

Three key elements have likely driven this growth. First, the inability of physicians to consistently monitor patients and persistent challenges with patient adherence have created a need for digital technologies to serve as a mechanism for care delivery. Second, the increasing migration of medical care out of the hospital and fragmentation of care among specialties has increased demand for new forms of patient-to-provider and provider-to-provider communication. Third, expansions in insurance coverage and new payment models that encourage cost control have aligned incentives for technologies that aim to substitute higher-cost services with lower-cost, higher-value services.

Strategies For Disruption

The venture capital movement will likely be judged on two factors: whether it improves patient outcomes and experience, and whether it saves money for society. To date, rigorous evidence on the impact of venture capital -backed innovations is scarce. Most deals have occurred in the past few years, and most startup technologies take time to scale and are not implemented with a control group or a design that facilitates easy evaluation. Traditional provider groups may often be too small, hospital operations too rigid, and delivery systems too skeptical for a given digital health innovation to be implemented widely and tested rigorously. Moreover, data on the impact of such technologies on patients and costs may often be held privately akin to trade secrets.

However, some early small-scale randomized controlled studies have suggested potential health benefits (for example, improved glycemic and blood pressure control) of mobile health applications and wearable biosensors. Evidence may grow as startup products are brought closer to market.

Despite the shortage of rigorous public evidence, the strategies of startups to influence use and spending are apparent. Many startups target wellness and prevention among self-insured employers, using smartphones and wearable devices to engage and track patients with the hope of lowering costs through decreasing use. Although this strategy of saving money through helping people become healthier in their daily lives remains largely unproven, hundreds of companies in this space have received substantial amounts of funding. Among the most well-known is Omada Health, which provides proprietary online coaching programs and other digital tools to help prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases. It is considered the nation’s largest federally recognized provider of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Diabetes Prevention Program, having received more than $125 million in venture funding since it was founded in 2011. 

Another segment of startups focus on a separate driver of health care costs—the prices of medical services. These firms are increasingly partnering with employers to steer patients toward lower-cost providers for expensive treatments such as joint replacements. Their path to success—creating savings through price transparency—is also largely unproven, although lowering prices through enhancing competition is a reasonable approach. 

Still other digital health startups focus on improving access to primary care via telehealth, virtual visits, and related mechanisms of accessing care. Some use biometric data (genetics or biosensor data) to facilitate early detection of medical problems. While evidence is sparse, these efforts may lead to increased use and spending. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the startup technologies will be priced below existing substitutes. To the extent that these technologies improve outcomes but at a greater total cost, policy makers and adopters of such innovations may face difficult decisions over access and tradeoffs. 

Points Of Caution 

Given differences among health care and other industries, the success of the digital health boom is far from promised. Medical evidence suggests that changes in practice typically lag behind technological advancements. For evidence-based guidelines, randomized controlled trials remain the gold standard despite their considerable expense and length, which place them out of reach for many startup technologies. In addition to showing efficacy, interventions must convincingly demonstrate that they “do no harm.” 

This culture directly conflicts with the “fail fast, fail hard” reality of venture capital, in which a return on investment is typically sought within several years. Furthermore, the complex clinical workflows of traditional medical practices offer little room for disruption without potentially putting provider satisfaction or patient safety at risk (at least in the short term). In a profession in which institutions move slowly and health is at stake, technological innovations face a higher threshold for acceptance relative to other industries.

Other barriers to adoption include: the difficulty of building successful business models centered on lowering spending in a largely revenue-maximizing system in which providers often lack the incentives to eliminate waste; HIPAA-related privacy rules and restrictions that hinder data sharing across digital platforms; incompatibility between newer cloud-based technologies that startups build and old legacy technologies used by traditional providers; and the lack of billing codes and ways of recognizing provider effort in digital health, which complicates budget or price negotiations. It is perhaps no surprise that 98 percent of digital health startups ultimately fail

Outlook For The Future 

In the first three quarters of 2018, venture capital involvement in health care has further accelerated. The third quarter saw an estimated $4.5 billion in digital health funding—the most of any quarter on record. As this industry grows, policy makers have an important role to play. 

Regulatory guidance is needed to shape the scope and direction of new technologies, with patient safety and societal costs in mind. Venture capital firms and startups often point to a lack of regulatory guidance on what must undergo formal approval. The current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Digital Health Innovation Plan is a positive step toward defining the path to market for low-risk digital devices and specifying what digital health tools fall outside the FDA’s scope.

Second, a reimbursement framework for digital technologies is needed. Thoughtful debate about their prices and new billing codes should be had in an open forum. Outcomes-based pricing and other value-based approaches that go beyond the fee-for-service standard should be considered.

Most importantly, policy makers and government agencies such as the FDA, CMS, and the National Institutes of Health should study the effects of startups in health care and facilitate research on these products to inform payers and the public of their benefits and drawbacks. In the current climate, little funding has been allocated toward such research. This leaves providers and patients relying almost exclusively on industry-funded studies, at times conducted by the same startup that is selling the product or service. Publicly funded, independent studies of the impact of venture capital-backed products and services on clinical and economic outcomes are needed to establish an evidence base that patients and providers can broadly trust.

 

 

 

CMS updates hospital price transparency requirement — again

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/cms-updates-hospital-price-transparency-requirement-again.html?origin=cfoe&utm_source=cfoe

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CMS published an additional FAQ document that provides guidance for hospitals required to post their standard charges online.

In August, CMS finalized a rule requiring hospitals to publish a list of their standard charges online in a machine-readable format and to update this information at least annually. Over the past few months, CMS has attempted to answer questions about the new requirement before it kicks in Jan. 1.

CMS posted a document in September that provided the definition of “machine readable” and answered five other frequently asked questions about the price transparency rule.

CMS recently published an additional document that expanded on the rule. The agency answered seven questions about the new requirement, including one about whether hospitals are required to post information online that isn’t included in their chargemasters. CMS clarified that even if a hospital’s chargemaster does not include standard charges for drugs, biologicals, or other items and services it provides, those charges must be posted online.

 

 

 

Battle heats up between Stanford Health Care, union over hospital charge initiative

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/human-capital-and-risk/battle-heats-up-between-stanford-health-care-union-over-care-cost-initiative.html?origin=bhre&utm_source=bhre

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Stanford (Calif.) Health Care and an employees union are disputing over a November ballot initiative to place a 15 percent cap on hospital charges in Palo Alto, Calif., The Stanford Daily reported.

Seven things to know:

1. The ballot initiative, initially filed in May, would place a 15 percent cap on the amount Palo Alto-based hospitals can charge in excess of direct patient care costs. Hospitals, medical clinics and other providers in Palo Alto would have to refund payers for charges exceeding the 15 percent cap within 180 days of each fiscal year.

2. The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West sponsored the measure. It represents healthcare workers at Stanford Health Care — which has a main campus in Palo Alto.

3. Stanford University announced its opposition to the measure in a Sept. 28 statement.

The measure “would threaten Stanford Health Care’s ability to provide top-quality healthcare to patients from Palo Alto and across the region,” officials said.

“Such a policy is estimated to reduce Stanford Health Care’s budget by 25 percent, requiring significant cutbacks and the possible closure of many services and programs that are essential to high-quality healthcare in the local area.”

4. Union spokesperson Sean Wherley argued the measure will provide accountability for local healthcare providers and the city, according to the report.

“This is about transparency [and] letting people understand how much [they] are being charged, and why [they] are being charged so much more than the clinic down the street or in the neighboring community,” he told The Stanford Daily. “This is our chance as an organization to get healthcare costs under control.”

5. The union has also taken issue with Stanford Health Care’s profits, but the system said these are necessary resources to maintain its specialists, facilities and community benefit program, and that the system invests all its profit margin.

6. Palo Alto City Council members voted this summer to oppose the measure. According to the report, they attributed the decision to not having adequate bureaucratic infrastructure to regulate healthcare charges from local providers.

7. As of Oct. 3, the political action committee of the union and the opposition committee — Protect Our Local Hospitals and Health Care — had spent a combined $1.8 million on the measure.

 

Study: No link between offering price transparency tool and lower healthcare spending

http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/study-no-link-between-offering-price-transparency-tool-and-lower-healthcare-spending.html

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Offering a price transparency tool to a large insured population in California did not result in decreased healthcare spending, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

For the study, researchers analyzed the experience of beneficiaries of the self-insured California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a benefit manager for the state’s public employees, their dependents and retirees. CalPERS offered beneficiaries enrolled in an Anthem Blue Cross preferred provider organization a commercial price transparency tool called Castlight. Castlight was introduced to beneficiaries on July 1, 2014, and researchers conducted the study from July 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2015. Researchers said they specifically focused on “shoppable” services such as lab tests, office visits and advanced imaging services.

The study found no link between shoppable services spending and Castlight. Researchers said only 12.3 percent of beneficiaries offered the price transparency tool used it to conduct a price search at least once in the 15 months after it was introduced. Only 2.4 percent of beneficiaries used it at least three times during the 15 months, and 3.9 percent used it at least twice for searches with at least 30 days between searches.

The study found beneficiaries that did a price search prior to receiving imaging services on average paid 14 percent less than those who did not do a price search prior to those services. Researchers said only 1 percent of beneficiaries who received advanced imaging conducted a price search.

“We did not find evidence that offering a price transparency tool was associated with a reduction in spending on shoppable services. Patients’ use of the tool was associated with lower-price imaging services, but because use of the tool was so limited, this result did not translate into meaningful spending reductions among the population offered the tool,” the study’s authors concluded.

Frost and Sullivan’s 9 healthcare predictions for 2017

http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/slideshow/frost-and-sullivans-9-healthcare-predictions-2017?p=0

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