NC Treasurer Folwell criticizes hospitals over new federal transparency rule

NC State Treasurer criticizes hospitals for skirting transparency rule

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell is criticizing hospitals across the state, alleging they are not complying with a new federal price transparency rule put in place by the Trump Administration that took effect January 1, 2021. It requires each hospital operating in the United States to provide clear, accessible pricing information about the items and services they provide. Folwell referred to a report done by the Wall Street Journal, that claims thousands of hospitals are undermining the rule by blocking patients’ access to price information using special coding to hamper web searches.

“I am disappointed by hospitals’ pattern of deceit,” Treasurer Folwell said in a news release sent from his office. “Patients and taxpayers deserve to know what they’re paying for care. We must get rid of secret contracts and push the power down to the consumer. The attorney general needs to be involved.”

Folwell’s office oversees the State Health Plan, which provides health insurance coverage for more than 700,000 state employees, retirees and their families. He has been critical of hospital and insurance companies in the past for not providing requested information on the cost of healthcare services to members of the plan.

A spokesperson for Novant Health, which recently purchased New Hanover Regional Medical Center and is mentioned in the WSJ article and in the Treasurer’s Office news release, released the following statement regarding the organizations compliance with the new federal rule:

We take compliance with these federal regulations seriously and are committed to ensuring that consumers have the tools and resources needed to gather an accurate estimate of their out-of-pocket costs.

As such, we have launched an online price estimator tool to provide easy access for patients seeking the out-of-pocket costs for common procedures and services. The online price estimator is available by accessing //NovantHealth.org/CostEstimates.

This online price estimator tool is powered by a handful of different data sets, including a list of negotiated rates with insurers for each of our facilities. While federal regulation requires this list of charges be posted on our website, which we have done, this data simply does not have utility for consumers or patients.

The charge list does not take into account an individual’s insurance coverage or other factors that may impact the cost of their care, like where they are during their plan year, whether or not they’ve met their deductible, and what their out-of-pocket maximum is. The complete charge list is essentially a large excel spreadsheet that’s extremely cumbersome and difficult to search if you do not have knowledge of specific insurance coding or negotiated payor rates.

To help ensure that when a consumer conducts a search to estimate their cost-of-care, that they land on the more useful, accurate price estimator tool versus the complete charge list, a noindex code is used to prioritize one over the other.

So the intent of using a code is not to prevent someone from searching, and finding, this complete charge list, which we do have on each facility page. The intent is to prioritize the price estimator calculator in search results.

We continue to evaluate our approach and anticipate that it will develop with time. Anecdotally, we are hearing healthcare systems across the country have not yet had the ability to create any online access to charge lists. We are proud that in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, our teams were able to simultaneously develop two tools to ensure greater price transparency.

“I can’t imagine going to the coffee shop that I was just at on 16th Street and somebody said, ‘You pay one price because you have this kind of credit card, and you pay a different price because you have this kind of credit card’,” Folwell said when informed of the statement from Novant Health. “This is an industry that operates in secrecy, and it’s time to get rid of secret contracts.”

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