Hospital costs available online, patients can compare prices

Floyd County Medical Center. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Floyd County Medical Center. Press file photo by Bob Steenson
By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

New federal Medicare rules now require all hospitals nationwide to post prices for their services online.

The regulation went into effect at the beginning of the year, and the idea is to better inform patients, so that they can compare prices on common procedures.

In Iowa, a price comparison tool has been around for years, and can all be found at the Iowa Hospital Association’s website.

“It’s a helpful tool, to help us be wise health care consumers,” said Rod Nordeng, Floyd County Medical Center administrator. “I think it’s important to know that this is just one piece of information — it’s a good starting point.”

On the website iowahospitalcharges.com, patients can price-compare the cost of treatment at one hospital versus another.

A link on the home page on the Floyd County Medical Center’s website, www.fcmc.us.com, reads “Compare Hospital Charges” and takes you directly to IHA site.

“I think it will continue to evolve as a tool for health care consumers to use,” Nordeng said.

According to Nordeng and FCMC Chief Financial Officer Ron Timpe, although the link on the front page of the hospital’s website is new, the medical center has always complied with the Iowa Hospital Association, which has been actively posting cost information for 15-20 years.

“Historically, we look at costs and make sure we are competitive,” said Nordeng.

A lot of patients aren’t aware of the price listings.

“I think some of that is related to the complexity,” said Nordeng. “So many items are part of a charge master in a hospital setting — it’s really complex.”

Nordeng said that depending on the patient, a simple test or procedure can often lead to more tests and procedures, so it’s difficult to pin down to an average of one cost for one service.

“I do think it’s important for people to ask questions and find out the costs,” said Nordeng. “Certainly as people have higher deductible plans, people need to look at how they’re spending those dollars.”

Timpe added that there are always difficulties when it comes to determining an average or median regarding health care costs. For example, a consumer might find that the average cost of a childbirth at FCMC could vary widely from the average cost at Mercy Medical Center in New Hampton or the overall state average.

“I can’t speak for New Hampton or to the state average, but not all deliveries are going to be the same — even at our own facility. The costs could range drastically,” said Timpe, who added that the length of stay could also vary, and a longer length of stay can increase costs.

Besides prices, Nordeng said that other factors patients should look at would include expediency — if the procedure is an emergency — the quality of care, and travel distance.

“It ultimately depends on who they trust as their physician as well,” said Nordeng, who mentioned that the Floyd County Medical Center has a five-star rating in patient satisfaction.

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