There is greater scrutiny of health-care pricing than ever before. Last year, we reviewed the new rules requiring more transparency. Yet, as of April 2021, we study how hospitals try to minimize price transparency.

 

More Avoidance: How Hospitals Try to Minimize Price Transparency

An enormous issue in healthcare marketing involves price transparency. According to the nonprofit AAMC:

Price Transparency — In health care, readily available information on the price of health care services that, together with other information, helps define the value of those services. And thereby enables patients and other care purchasers to identify, compare, and choose providers that offer the desired level of value. Value — The quality of a health care service in relation to the total price paid for the service by
care purchasers.

Due to the lack of transparency, the federal government established a new rule to require it. And this rule was upheld by federal courts. As a result, U.S. hospitals are now required to disclose the secret rates they negotiate with insurance companies. After agreeing to comply with the rule, hospitals found a way to partially hide the information.

 

Hiding Prices — an Exclusive Report by the Wall Street Journal

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal detailed the hospitals’ evasive tactics. Tom McGinty, Anna Wilde Mathews, and Melanie Evans conclude the following:

Hospitals that published their previously confidential prices to comply with a new federal rule also blocked that information from Web searches with special coding embedded on their websites, according to a Wall Street Journal examination.

The information must be disclosed under a federal rule aimed at making the $1 trillion sector more consumer friendly. But hundreds of hospitals embedded code in their Web sites that prevented Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other search engines from displaying pages with the price lists. Based on our examination of more than 3,100 sites.

The code keeps pages from appearing in searches, such as those related to a hospital’s name and prices, computer-science experts say. The prices are often accessible other ways, such as through links that require clicking through multiple layers of pages. “It’s technically there, but good luck finding it,” says Chirag Shah, an associate professor at the University of Washington. He studies human interactions with computers. “It’s one thing not to optimize your site for searchability. While, it’s another thing to tag it so it can’t be searched. It’s a clear indication of intentionality.”

Here is a visual look at the code hiding by the Journal.

The Ethics of Pricing by Hospitals

 

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