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February 1, 2017

How one hospital is getting ahead of the price transparency curve

Daily Briefing

A Montana-based hospital has launched a new billing system intended to increase transparency of treatment costs, Erin Loranger reports for the Helena Independent Record.

The new billing system comes as policymakers increasingly are pushing for better price transparency in health care. For example, Republicans senators last month introduced draft legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act that would require health care providers to publish the "cash prices" for services patients pay for either through health savings accounts or with cash. Further, President Trump during his campaign said he would "require price transparency from all health care providers."

Billing system details

According to Loranger, St. Peter's Hospital conducted surveys and forums to identify the causes of patient dissatisfaction, as well as to give the community an opportunity to suggest ways the hospital could improve its system.

The hospital in response has:

  • Contracted with a new patient call center;
  • Created an online payment portal;
  • Implemented new technology that verifies patients' addresses in real time; and
  • Redesigned its billing statements.

The hospital also hired additional financial counselors to help patients understand their bills and create payment plans if needed. In addition, the hospital has launched a tool that estimates patients' out-of-pocket costs for hospital services.

Why a price transparency tool isn't just 'nice'—it's necessary

According to the Record, the cost estimator is intended to give patients a better idea of how much they will be billed for services they receive. When patients call the hospital to schedule appointments, workers take the patients' insurance information and then use the tool to provide an estimate of the patients' expected out-of-pocket costs. Fred Olson, interim president and CEO at St. Peter's, explained, "There is an electronic connection to the insurance company's database in real time that looks at the characteristics of your health care policy in terms of your deductible."

Currently, the estimator only can predict costs for hospital services. However, John Green, VP of finance at the hospital, said officials are working to expand the tool to include physician costs, as well.

St. Peter's also plans to launch this year a program that will offer loans to patients with financial need at zero interest for 36 months (Loranger, Helena Independent Record, 1/19).

How to choose a price transparency partner

While some organizations have developed a comprehensive price transparency strategy, a majority of providers either don’t know where to start or lack the manpower to create a plan suited to their unique market.

To lessen the burden, we’ve identified the top 5 questions you should consider as you assign a member of your team or a third-party partner to create a price transparency strategy.

Get the guide

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