Mercy Regional Medical Center and all other hospitals across the nation were required to start posting prices for services online this month by a federal rule intended to improve transparency in health care pricing.
However, the price lists will not be much help to consumers if they want to shop around for health care services, said Joe Hanel, a spokesman for Colorado Health Institute.
The prices listed by hospitals generally serve as a starting point for hospitals to negotiate pricing with insurance companies and “hardly anyone” pays the prices listed, he said.
“They’re useful insofar as they can show you the maximum you can be charged for a treatment at a hospital,” he said.
However, a bill may include supplementary services that a patient can’t anticipate.
The lists posted by Centura Health are accompanied by a long disclaimer explaining that the price list is for self-pay patients and not for those with any form of insurance.
Emergency room services, fees for implants and high-cost drugs, among other services, are not on the list, according to the disclaimer.
At Mercy, before this year, all uninsured patients who received emergency care received an automatic 50 percent discount on facility charges, said David Bruzzese, Mercy spokesman. As of Jan. 1, the automatic facility-fee discount for self-pay patients increased to 60 percent, he said.
Centura Health allows customers to request a custom quote online that will take into account a consumer’s insurance plan.
The federal requirement to post the lists was modest step toward transparency in health care pricing, Hanel said.
“People are really waking up to the fact that health care is not functioning like a free market,” he said.
Consumers don’t pay for most of their own health care costs because an insurance company is functioning as the middle man – and that is part of the problem, he said.
Sometimes consumers also don’t have much choice about where they can go for care if a community has only one hospital. In severe cases, a patient might be taken to a hospital while he or she is unconscious and may be unable to make a decision about the facility, Hanel said.