Hospitals must now post standard charges online

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Hilo Medical Center

Hospitals throughout the country are now required to make a list of standard charges available online.

Hospitals already were required to establish, update and make public lists of their standard charges for services and items provided. But to make the information more widely available, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services updated existing guidelines, which starting Tuesday require hospitals to make that information available online in a machine-readable format.

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All hospitals operating in the United States, including in-patient rehabilitation facilities and psychiatric hospitals, critical access hospitals and sole community hospitals are required to meet those guidelines, according to information provided by CMS.

Some Hawaii Island hospitals put the information online prior to the Jan. 1 deadline.

“We want our patients to be the drivers of their health care,” said Joni Waltjen, East Hawaii regional chief financial officer for Hawaii Health Systems, which includes Hilo Medical Center, Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua in Honokaa and Ka‘u Hospital.

By Dec. 28, charges for the health care system’s East Hawaii facilities were posted on each hospital’s individual website under a “Standard Charges” tab.

The same information also is available on the websites, under the “Standard Charges” tab, for Hawaii Health Systems’ West Hawaii Region hospitals, which include Kona Community Hospital and Kohala Hospital.

“It will really empower and educate our patients to know the cost attached to the care being provided to them,” said HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu.

On Tuesday, The Queen’s Health System, which operates North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea, put the required information online.

“The Queen’s Health Systems sees this as an opportunity to improve communication with the communities we serve,” said spokesman Cedric Yamanaka by email. “By Jan. 1, 2019, we will have required standard pricing information of products and services available at our four hospitals, The Queen’s Medical Center, The Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu, Molokai General Hospital and North Hawaii Community Hospital, available on our websites.”

But the listed charges, which Waltjen said would be the most the hospital can bill to a patient or insurer, won’t necessarily be what patients pay.

Instead, she likened it to a sticker price at a car dealership.

“(Do) you really pay that?” Waltjen asked. “No. You have a conversation with someone to figure out what your true cost is going to be.”

She encouraged individuals to talk to their insurance companies to determine actual out-of-pocket costs. Those without insurance can contact a patient financial counselor for options.

According to information on the HMC website, actual charges will depend on a variety of factors such as the length of time spent in surgery or recovery, the number of days spent in the hospital and whether additional tests are needed, among others. The list also does not include physician charges.

But Waltjen said having access to the information is beneficial for patients.

“I always think it’s a benefit whenever you get more information about your own health care,” she said.

The only drawback would be that someone who’s not familiar with what the charges are “might be taken aback,” she said, reiterating that to “truly know what your portion should be,” patients should contact their insurance provider or a patient financial counselor.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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Websites

hilomedicalcenter.org/standard-charges/

halehoolahamakua.org/standard-charges/

kauhospital.org/standard-charges/

kohala.hhsc.org/

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kch.hhsc.org/

queens.org/north-hawaii/north-hawaii-community-hospital