Under the Dome

Cost of hospital care could become easier to access

The state Senate passed a bill Thursday to make hospital bills more transparent and easy to understand.

The bill would require hospitals to post prices and payments for the 100 most common hospital services, similar to the hospital data released by the federal government Wednesday. The Senate bill goes farther; hospitals would list the prices they charge, the amount paid by an uninsured patient, the amounts paid by Medicare and Medicaid, and the amounts paid by large insurers.

Unlike shopping for a house or television, patients seldom know ahead of time the price of hospital care and how much they owe. Patients typically find out days or weeks later when the explanation of benefits arrives. This makes it almost impossible to shop for the best price.

The bill, which now goes to the state House, prohibits more extreme forms of bill collecting: Public hospitals could no longer garnish a patient’s wages, and no hospital or ambulatory surgical center could put a lien on a delinquent patient’s primary residence.

North Carolina’s hospitals have been under heightened scrutiny since last April, when The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer published a series of stories revealing nonprofit hospitals’ high profits, huge markups on drugs and tough stances against patients struggling to pay their bills.
—Staff writer Joseph Neff

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