New hospital charge lists causing confusion among consumers

A new federal rule requires all hospitals to make their list of charges available to the public, but there are some concerns that these "chargemaster" lists are causing confusion among consumers.

Many of the lists show the amounts billed to insurance companies- Medicare or Medicaid- but not the amount that patients will be billed.

Hospitals around the Triangle have included disclaimers on their websites.

WakeMed's site reads "Chargemaster amounts are almost never billed to a patient or received as payment by a hospital," while the Duke Health website states, "This information is not an estimate of the amount you may owe."

Consumers searching for information about UNC Rex will see a message that reads, "The unit charge listed here is unlikely to be the amount that you see on a bill if you are a patient at UNC Health Care."

In addition to showing higher prices, the lists can also be difficult to decipher. "If I don't understand what they are. I don't know how consumers are really going to understand what these are for," said Joan Moss, a professional patient advocate.

Moss is also a nurse with more than 30 years of experience in health care. She looked through some of the lists and said many of them contain billing codes instead of the actual names of procedures and supplies. "The terminology being used on those chargemaster lists many times are medical terms that people really don't understand," she said.

Moss' advice for anyone looking for information on a procedure and how much it will cost is to call the hospital directly. "Don't be shy, pick up the phone and call someone in the billing department, I have done that many times and they tend to be very helpful," she said.

Another suggestion for anyone who gets a large bill from a hospital is to try negotiating.

Moss said that most hospitals are willing to set up payment options or find other ways to work with patients to make sure those bills get paid.
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