The federal government now requires all hospitals to show consumers the prices of their services online and make them easily accessible without restrictions. I looked up the price of a hysterectomy at Cottage Hospital as a test. The list of prices for services was not easily available.
I first did a word search under the hospital website search function, then forged through several pages of needless diversionary info. I tried putting “price for service” in the home page search function. No results. Next I typed in “cost for services.” The search led me to another page that still featured the hospital’s five feature pages “above the fold,” which had nothing to do with prices for their services, but, at the bottom was a cost of care estimates link under “related pages.”
That link led to another page that listed four options: via “my chart,” email, phone, by doctors CPT code, or insurance. Near the bottom was a “guest” option. This next page was headlined with a disclaimer to acknowledge that the price was an estimate only, not including doctors fees etc. but only hospital charges. It also displayed a form to enter all my insurance information. In smaller type was an option to skip this step. I pressed “skip this step.”
Finally a page appeared that asked for the service to be priced. Randomly I entered hysterectomy. A definition of the term appeared highlighted, but no price. I tapped on the highlighted word hysterectomy. Finally the price estimate appeared: $37,647 with insurance and an uninsured “discount” price about $10,000 less.
Yes, the info was there, but how about a simple link on the hospital homepage that would go straight to disclaimer and request for procedure to be priced. The results I got had both the noninsured and insurance estimates, so all those interim pages, the form, and term searching was totally unnecessary. And they are discouraging for anybody unfamiliar with computer search problems. It not easy for consumers to find the prices in order to compare with other hospitals.
Federal rules also require the prices to be the actual amounts Cottage has negotiated to charge health insurance companies. But Cottage does not. It only shows estimated charges. This fails to comply with federal rules and stymies a person’s search for real medical charges.
Cottage Health responded to a request for comment: We appreciate feedback on ways to improve our service and website, and have made recent updates to improve user experience on our website. We welcome community members to contact our Patient Estimates Team by phone or email (805-879-8909 or CottageEstimates@sbch.org) for personalized assistance with cost-of-care estimates. This contact information is on our website, along with other resources for those who prefer to use our online cost estimator tools. A number of routes will lead to this information on the Cottage Health website – a click on Patient & Visitors loads a menu that begins with Cost of Care estimates. The quickest path may be simply typing ‘Cost Estimate’ or ‘Cost’ in the web search engine.
Cottage Health’s website complies with federal guidelines to provide a comprehensive list of prices for hospital services. This complete list of services is detailed and itemized, so it is not the quickest way to arrive at an estimate for care. Our Patient Estimates Team and online estimator tools provide estimates based on the individual procedure and anticipated tests, insurance coverage, and financial assistance variables.