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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

San Francisco Chronicle
Jul 02, 2005

by Victoria Colliver

Hospital price lists trickle in;

About 60% meet state's deadline for service charges
About 60 percent of California's hospitals met a Friday deadline for submitting to the state information on prices for services, a state agency said.

A 2003 state law designed to show pricing disparities among hospitals required the state's 422 acute-care medical centers to disclose prices for their top 25 services or procedures last year. The law set a deadline of July 1 for providing the state a complete price list known as a chargemaster.

By Friday afternoon, about 259 hospitals had submitted the information, according to the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. An agency official said that hospitals that turn in the data late will not be penalized.

A consumer group said the compliance rate is unacceptable.

"We need to have strict oversight and require standardization of rates," said Jerry Flanagan, health advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Flanagan said the sticker prices charged by hospitals, which are generally paid only by people without health insurance, are too high and bear little relation to underlying costs. Insurers and government payers negotiate discounted rates for their beneficiaries.

A Chronicle survey in January of charges at several Bay Area hospitals found wide and seemingly arbitrary disparities.

For example, the cost of a complete blood count ranged from $36 at Alameda County Medical Center in Oakland to $140 at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. An abdominal CT scan that cost $921 at St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco was as much as $4,781 at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley.

The state will send reminders to hospitals that failed to turn in the information. CD-ROM versions of the data will become available to the public for $10 within the next few weeks, said John Kriege, acting deputy director of the health planning agency's information division.

More information on hospital chargemasters can be found at www.oshpd.ca.gov



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