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Prices remain absent from Fulton hospital website

Prices remain absent from Fulton hospital website

January 5th, 2019 by Jenny Gray and Joe Gamm in Local News

Fulton Medical Center

Despite a federal rule that took effect Tuesday, Fulton Medical Center officials have not yet been able to post their prices on the internet due to a of lack of an accessible website.

"Yes, there are new Medicare guidelines," said George Ross, senior marketing director of the hospital. "(We have) a website, but we don't have control over it."

That goes for a second website, too, Ross added. Neither fultonmed.com nor fultonmedicalcenter.org are accessible by hospital officials, he said. After searching for "Fulton Medical Center" and clicking on the "Website" button, one gets the hospital's Facebook page.

"We're using Facebook right now" to dispense information, he said. "We're looking to get a website up and ready in the next week or two."

Tuesday was the deadline for hospitals to publish rates on their websites. Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced new rules early last year requiring hospitals to post their standard prices online and to make it easier for patients to access electronic records.

Deidra Ashley, a member of the MU Health Care public relations team, previously confirmed the organization would meet the Jan. 1 deadline.

In Jefferson City, Capital Region Medical Center already meets rate-posting requirements, said Lindsay Huhman, the medical center's director of marketing.

"Capital Region Medical Center has publicly posted estimated charges for outpatient services for about two years," she said in an email.

Go to crmc.org/patients-and-visitors/billing-insurance/pricing-transparency to find rates. Once there, users can click on links that show charges for daily room and board, emergency charges, X-rays and many other categories.

The website assures users the hospital wishes to help patients take full advantage of their insurance coverage and bills insurance — including Medicare and Medicaid — before billing the patients. Patients are not charged interest on balances after insurance payments are received, according to the site.

Prices listed are "gross charges" and "no one pays gross charges," according to the site. People receive discounts for their insurance, and those who have no insurance are billed only 35 percent of charges.

Patients can access St. Mary's Hospital's standard charges by clicking on the "price estimate" link at the foot of its web page. From there, visitors can navigate to another page that includes a drop-down menu for standard charges for the hospital, said Patrick Wood, a communication and marketing consultant for St. Mary's Hospital.

"In compliance with federal law, SSM Health will be providing a list of standard charges for each of our ministries, including SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital-Jefferson City, effective Jan. 1, 2019," Wood said in an email. "However, it's important to note that standard charges of hospital services are not equivalent to the actual amount paid by governmental or commercial insurance payers. Instead, the amount a patient pays is based on many factors, including health insurance, benefit plans and other applicable discounts, as well as the services provided based on each patient's unique needs."

Even with costs available online, the hospital recommends consumers call (844) 989-6292 for an "accurate and personalized" estimate.

With Tuesday's changes, hospitals are required to place the cost information in a format computers can easily process. However, it may still be confusing to consumers, since standard rates are like list prices and don't reflect what insurers and government programs pay, Verma said when she announced the rule.

Patients concerned about their potential out-of-pocket costs from a hospitalization are still advised to consult with their insurer. Most insurance plans have an annual limit on how much patients must pay in copays and deductibles — although traditional Medicare does not.

The MHA is helping area hospitals comply with new federal requirements, Huhman said. Mary Becker, its senior vice president of strategic partnerships and communications, said the MHA tries to provide guidance to hospitals when Missouri or the federal government issue new rules.

"Hospital pricing is difficult," Becker said. "Missouri hospitals have made a good faith effort to provide both quality and pricing information to the public for nearly three years (before state law required it)."

Posting data on the MHA website helped hospitals comply with the state law, she said, but the new federal law requires too much data and information for its website to meet the requirement.