Medical Transparency

Published 9:00am Tuesday, September 3, 2013

By using the print or electronic media, individuals always scan the ads searching for deals….whether that’s for a new vehicle or a buy one, get one free promotion at a grocery store.

So why wouldn’t the same deal-hunting effort apply when it comes to an individual in need of a medical procedure? What prevents hospitals from making the public aware of their prices?

Thanks to a major consumer protection bill signed into law on Aug. 21 by Gov. Pat McCrory, hospitals across the state will be required to provide public pricing information on 140 medical procedures and services. The new law also prevents hospitals, in certain situations, from putting liens on a patient’s residence in order to collect unpaid medical bills.

“For too long, North Carolina patients have been in the dark on what they can expect to pay for common medical procedures when they are admitted to a hospital,” McCrory said. “This new law gives patients and their doctors pricing information so they can make an informed financial decision with regard to their healthcare.”

However, transparency isn’t something new to Vidant Health, one of the leading medical providers in eastern North Carolina, including hospitals in Ahoskie and Windsor.

“As part of Vidant Health, Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital has been moving in the direction of transparency for some time now, sharing our quality and patient safety performance with the public,” RCH President Sue Lassiter told the News-Herald.

“We support any efforts to maintain access to needed health care information and to reduce healthcare costs.  While we do not anticipate this legislation having a huge impact on Vidant Health or Vidant Roanoke-Chowan, the details on ‘where and how much’  are yet to be determined,” Lassiter added.

According to House Bill 834, hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers statewide will now submit to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) their pricing on 100 common in-patient services, 20 common surgical procedures and 20 common imaging procedures. DHHS will publish that information on its website.

“The Health Care Cost Reduction and Transparency Act (House Bill 834) provides important consumer protections and empowers patients to make better-informed decisions about their healthcare,” said NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “I applaud Senators Bob Rucho and Harry Brown for their work on this initiative and thank Gov. McCrory for his support of common-sense reforms that will help North Carolinians begin to take the mystery out of their hospital bills.”

Earlier this year, the federal government published a database surveying the cost of 100 common hospital procedures and services across the nation. The News and Observer of Raleigh looked at hospital pricing in North Carolina and found that in 75 percent of the services it examined, the highest price was triple or more compared to the lowest price for the same procedure. For example, the price for implanting a pacemaker in North Carolina ranged from $22,000 to $75,000 according to the federal 2011 database.

The new law also requires hospitals to submit their charity policy to DHHS and it will publish those policies on its website.

In addition to not allowing hospitals to file a lien on a patient’s home, state owned hospitals at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and East Carolina University will no longer be able to garnish a patient’s wages to settle an unpaid debt.

The General Assembly also used HB 834 to modernize the State Personnel Act, a law that hasn’t been significantly updated for decades. The modernization empowers managers to use mediation and other methods to resolve employee grievances on the front end. Today, the existing grievance process averages 450 days to reach a conclusion. One case took more than 1,000 days to reach a settlement.

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