TAMPA, Fla. — Starting next Wednesday, hospitals will be required to post master lists of prices for their services online.
The new federal rule is aimed at educating patients and creating competition.
But the ABC Action News I-Team has uncovered that it's not likely to clear up all confusion.
We found a 500-page pricing list from one Florida hospital already online. It includes what the hospital charges for things like a private room, bandages and even Tylenol.
While it provides consumers more information, the price they actually pay still may be a mystery.
For years, the I-Team has reported how high medical charges often catch patients by surprise. Until now, the federal government didn't require hospitals to share pricing information, but that changes January 1, 2019.
“In this case, the federal government is taking what amounts to a baby step of sorts,” said University of South Florida Healthcare Vice President Jay Wolfson.
Wolfson says more than 3,300 hospitals will be required to post every detail about every charge. But he says most patients won’t be able to find out much from those price lists.
“It provides no useful information to the average consumer,” Wolfson said.
That's because most patients have insurance or a managed healthcare plans, or they get discounts when they pay in cash.
“What they charge is rarely, rarely what people pay,” Wolfson said.
And pricing required under the federal rules is for specific items, not complete procedures.
Wolfson says that in Florida, hospitals already are required to provide estimates, if you request them ahead of time.
“You can ask that hospital how much it will cost you and they have to provide it for you, but they don't have to post that online,” Wolfson said.
You can request that information by telephone or by using online forms.
Here are links to some of the Tampa Bay region’s largest hospitals:
You can also compare prices of different hospitals, based on data compiled by the Florida Hospital Association.
If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.