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Transparent Hospital Pricing Reveals Wild Fluctuation

by Harriet Blair Rowan
Thursday Feb 7, 2019
Transparent Hospital Pricing Reveals Wild Fluctuation
  (Source:Getty Images)

The federal government's new rule requiring hospitals to post prices for their services is intended to allow patients to shop around and compare prices, a step toward price transparency that has generated praise and skepticism.

Kaiser Health News examined the price lists — known in hospital lingo as "chargemasters" — of the largest acute care hospitals in several large cities.

Prices varied widely on some basic procedures, even for basic charges. For instance, the list price on a liter of basic saline solution for intravenous use ranged from $56 to $472.50, nearly seven times as much. A brain MRI with contrast was priced from $1,720 to $8,800 at the hospitals. And they varied widely even when comparing nearby hospitals.

The new rule mandates that the chargemasters be available on the hospital website in a machine-readable format, but not all hospitals make them easy to find, and understanding them is a bigger obstacle.

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


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