Health care price transparency legislation is intended to reduce the ambiguity of hospital charges and the resultant financial stress faced by patients.
To evaluate the availability, usability, and variability of standard reported prices for ophthalmologic procedures at academic hospitals.
In this multicenter economic evaluation study, publicly available price transparency web pages from Association of American Medical Colleges affiliate hospitals were parsed for standard charges and usability metrics. Price transparency data were collected from hospital web pages that met the inclusion criteria. Geographic practice cost indices for work, practice expense, and malpractice were sourced from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Data were sourced from February 1 to April 30, 2021. Multiple regression was used to study the geographic influence on standard charges and assess the correlation between standard charges.
Availability and variability of standard prices for Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes 66984 (removal of cataract with insertion of lens) and 66821 (removal of recurring cataract in lens capsule using laser).
Of 247 hospitals included, 191 (77.3%) provided consumer-friendly shoppable services, most commonly in the form of a price estimator or online tool. For CPT code 66984, 102 hospital (53.4%) provided discount cash pay estimates with a mean (SD) price of $7818.86 ($5407.91). For CPT code 66821, 71 hospital (37.2%) provided discount cash pay estimates with a mean (SD) price of $2041.72 ($2106.44). The top quartile of hospitals, prices wise, listed included prices higher than $10 400 for CPT code 66984 and $2324 for CPT code 66821. Usability issues were noted for 36 hospitals (18.8%), including requirements for personal information or web page navigability barriers. Multiple regression analysis found minimal explanatory value for geographic practice cost indices for cash discount prices for CPT codes 66984 (adjusted R2 = 0.54; 95% CI, 0.41-0.67; P < .001) and 66821 (adjusted R2 = 0.64; 95% CI, 0.51-0.77; P < .001).
Despite recent legislature that codified price transparency requirements, some current standard charges remain ambiguous, with substantial interhospital variability not explained by geographic variability in costs. Given the potential for ambiguous pricing to burden vulnerable, uninsured patients, additional legislation might consider allowing hospitals to defer price estimates or rigorously define standards for actionable cash discount percentages with provisions for displaying relevant benchmark prices.