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Massachusetts hospitals still struggling with price transparency, survey shows

New survey is a follow-up to one published 18 months ago which showed little price transparency with the Commonwealth's hospitals.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

A survey from the Pioneer Institute shows Massachusetts hospitals are still falling short in meeting their obligation to provide price estimates to consumers within two days of a request being made. The new survey, which was released Monday, is a follow-up to one published 18 months ago which showed little price transparency with the Commonwealth's hospitals.

The two-day response period is required by state law. It took an average of two to four business days to get the pricing information, the survey said.

"Response time ranged from a few minutes at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield and Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton, to six or seven days at some other hospitals," Pioneer said.

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For the study, entitled "Massachusetts Hospitals Score Poorly on Price Transparency… Again," researchers called 21 hospitals that participated in the earlier survey to again request a self-pay estimate for an MRI of the left knee without contrast.  Results showed just nine of them were able to provide the estimate within the allowable two-business-day time frame.

In this survey, callers also inquired after self-pay or cash discounts which roughly two-thirds of the hospitals readily disclosed. MRI reading fee discounts were disclosed at about the same rate, and some callers were directed to a third party for a separate estimate of the reading fee, which slowed the process by 48 hours or more, Pioneer said.

Prices varied significantly. Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton quoted an undiscounted estimate of $1,061.22, while $8,447 was the quoted price from Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital.  Discounted estimates, which is the price for a self-pay patient, went from $636.73 at Morton to $6,928 at Mass General.

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Researchers went a step further and called back a month later to check the reliability of the estimates they had received. They said seven hospitals gave them a different estimate, ranging from roughy three percent higher at South Shore Hospital to 76.7 percent higher at Mass General. Most variances were caused by errors made with the previous estimate, researchers said.

"Deductibles can range from $1,500 to more than $7,000," said Pioneer Senior Fellow in Healthcare Policy Barbara Anthony, who authored the report with Scott Haller.  "Given that reality, access to price information is more important than ever before. This survey once again demonstrates how frustrating and time consuming it is for the average consumer to obtain a price quote. "

Twitter: @BethJSanborn