QUINCY -- Hospitals nationwide are now required to post their prices online.
Patrick Gerveler, chief financial officer for Blessing Corporate Services, said price transparency is a good resource for people with health care needs. He also said it may prove confusing for consumers, so hospital staff will be available to help.
"Health care has a bad rap when it comes to transparency. Having that (pricing) conversation up front is better than having somebody upset afterward," Gerveler said.
Officials at Blessing and Illini hospitals hope people will call in and talk with staff about their own situation.
A quick visit to BlessingHealth.org shows why patients may need guidance. There are more than 10,000 services, devices or health care options listed on a price sheet. Some look repetitive but involve a vast array of things that may have the same basic name but are somewhat different. There are pages of implantable bone screws and anchors listed with average patient costs ranging from $12,657 down to $108.
Room and board in a private and semi-private rooms can vary from $936 per day down to $655, depending on the level of care, the age of the patient and other factors.
Tim Moore, Blessing's chief accounting officer, said there are also two price columns as required by federal rules. The better indicator of a cost is shown in the average patient cost column, he said.
"The gross charge is like the sticker price on a car. The net price is just that -- it's the price with the negotiated discount," Moore said.
Todd Ahrens, CEO and president of Hannibal Regional Healthcare System, welcomes patients to discuss care options and costs.
"Helping our patients and families understand health care pricing is very important to us. As health care has so many variables, we feel it is extremely important for our patients and families to contact us personally to inquire about the cost of various procedures. So many variables affect the level of services a patient requires, which then impact the cost," Ahrens said.
The Missouri Hospital Association has created a "Focus on Hospitals" site to help consumers compare information about the most common inpatient medical procedures and emergency department services offered by participating hospitals.
Ahrens said the comparative site will help people make decisions, but additional information may be needed to accurately estimate the cost of surgeries and procedures.
"The new government mandate to post costs, while admirable in intent, only leads to more confusion as it does not account for levels of care, insurance coverage, health of the patient, including chronic diseases, or many other variables," Ahrens said.
Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the new requirement for online prices reflects the Trump administration's ongoing efforts to encourage patients to become better-educated decision makers in their own care.
"We are just beginning on price transparency," said Verma. "We know that hospitals have this information, and we're asking them to post what they have online."
The hospitals have another helpful tool for consumers.
"We have invested in some really cool software products that we can use to ping a patient's insurance company website and find out how much of their deductible and copay they still have to meet," Moore said.
By knowing the extent of out-of-pocket expenses, patients can better plan their finances.
Moore said the hospital has made arrangements with local banks that can make no-interest loans of up to 18 months to help people make reasonable payments on health care bills. Other forms of financial assistance also is available to those who qualify.
The Associated Press contributed to this report