Hoping to encourage comparison shopping, hospitals have started contacting patients before scheduled procedures to give them an estimated price for the treatment and ask them how they plan to pay.
One of the aims of this new practice as reported in Modern Healthcare is to help “prevent sticker shock after treatment and allows hospitals to more quickly identify patients who qualify for financial assistance.” Some hospitals even seek to reschedule patients who are unable to pay, leaving the patient’s doctor to make the final call whether the procedure can be put off until the patient pays.
While this is a step forward in terms of making healthcare more consumer friendly, this new practice does not address the problem it supposedly seeks to fix. Their goal as they put it is to help us comparison shop. Yet they provide estimates that may change after treatment is received. Hospital executives say their estimation tools are much more sophisticated than those of yesteryear, but apparently not sophisticated enough for them to guarantee the price. What is the purpose of comparison shopping if we’ll be stuck with a different amount when it’s all said and done. The prices patients are being quoted are not firm prices, we ask that everyone keeps this in mind when faced with such a decision.