Shoppable service tool refers to whether a consumer-friendly display of shoppable services (eg, price estimator) was available.
Customize your JAMA Network experience by selecting one or more topics from the list below.
Identify all potential conflicts of interest that might be relevant to your comment.
Conflicts of interest comprise financial interests, activities, and relationships within the past 3 years including but not limited to employment, affiliation, grants or funding, consultancies, honoraria or payment, speaker's bureaus, stock ownership or options, expert testimony, royalties, donation of medical equipment, or patents planned, pending, or issued.
Err on the side of full disclosure.
If you have no conflicts of interest, check "No potential conflicts of interest" in the box below. The information will be posted with your response.
Not all submitted comments are published. Please see our commenting policy for details.
Gondi S, Beckman AL, Ofoje AA, Hinkes P, McWilliams JM. Early Hospital Compliance With Federal Requirements for Price Transparency. JAMA Intern Med. 2021;181(10):1396–1397. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.2531
In the US, hospital prices vary widely but are not visible to patients or the public. In 2019, the federal government finalized a rule requiring hospitals to disclose the prices they negotiate with insurers.1 The rule—which survived legal challenges from hospitals—took effect on January 1, 2021, and includes 2 new major requirements.2 First, for all services, hospitals must publish discounted cash prices (applicable to uninsured patients) and payer-specific negotiated rates. Second, hospitals must display price data, including expected out-of-pocket costs, for “shoppable services” that can be scheduled in advance (eg, office visits) in a consumer-friendly manner that facilitates service-specific comparisons across hospitals (eg, price estimator tools).3
Although price-shopping by patients is limited even when prices are observable, transparency could lower prices through other means.4,5 However, compliance could be limited because the penalties for noncompliance are minimal (maximum $300 per day) and the costs of disclosure potentially great. We assessed early compliance with the new requirements.
We analyzed a random sample of 100 (out of 6171) hospitals and the 100 hospitals with highest gross revenue in 2017.6 We examined highest-revenue hospitals because the administrative costs of compliance should be inconsequential, but the repercussions of disclosure may be greater. For each hospital, we determined whether a machine-readable file with charge data and a separate tool for shoppable services were available. For the file, we assessed whether payer-specific negotiated rates and discounted cash prices were included. For shoppable services, we examined whether patients’ health insurance information was required to access hospital rates for that insurer. Data acquisition and analysis were conducted from March 1 through 10, 2021. The Harvard Medical School Committee on Human Studies determined that the study was not research on human participants.
The Table lists the characteristics of the hospitals. Of the 100 randomly sampled hospitals, 83 (83%; 95% CI, 74%-90%) were noncompliant with at least 1 major requirement (Figure). Only 33 reported payer-specific negotiated rates, and 30 reported discounted cash prices in a machine-readable file.
A total of 52 hospitals offered a price estimator tool for shoppable services, of which 23 (44.2%) posted payer-specific negotiated rates in a machine-readable file. All price estimator tools required personal health plan information to access price or cost-sharing information; discounted cash prices could be viewed without plan information since they are not insurer-specific.
Of the 100 highest-revenue hospitals, 75 (75%; 95% CI, 65%-83%) were noncompliant with at least 1 requirement (Figure). Only 35 reported payer-specific negotiated rates, and 40 reported discounted cash prices in a machine-readable file. A total of 86 offered a price estimator tool, of which 34 (39.5%) posted payer-specific negotiated rates in a machine-readable file.
As of March 2021, a small proportion of US hospitals were compliant with the major requirements of the new federal rule requiring disclosure of negotiated prices. Hospitals exhibited selectively higher compliance with the requirement of a price estimator for patients to view personalized out-of-pocket costs for shoppable services; a smaller proportion made their data fully accessible to the public by posting a machine-readable file with payer-specific negotiated rates.
Selective compliance was especially pronounced for the 100 highest-revenue hospitals, a low proportion of which fully disclosed their negotiated rates despite high compliance with the price estimator tool requirement. Because patient-oriented price estimator tools make prices visible only for a given patient and insurance plan and not to payers or the public, selective compliance may fail to expose abuses of market power, affect price negotiations, or support broad analysis of price variation to the extent intended by the transparency initiative. Policy makers could consider several strategies to improve compliance, including stiffer penalties, technical assistance, and public reporting of noncompliance.
A limitation of this study is that the low overall compliance must be interpreted in context. We examined websites 65 to 70 days after the rule’s implementation, and the rule took effect during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rule was finalized well before the pandemic, however, and the effective date was set in November 2019. Compliance may increase over time, but the early selective compliance suggests reluctance that may persist.
Accepted for Publication: April 16, 2021.
Published Online: June 14, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.2531
Corresponding Author: J. Michael McWilliams, MD, PhD, Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, 180A Longwood Ave, Boston, MA 02115 (email@example.com).
Author Contributions: Mr Gondi had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Gondi, Beckman, McWilliams.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Gondi, Beckman, Ofoje, Hinkes.
Drafting of the manuscript: Gondi, Ofoje, Hinkes, McWilliams.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Gondi, Beckman, McWilliams.
Statistical analysis: Gondi.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Beckman.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Mr Gondi reported receiving consulting fees from Commonwealth Care Alliance, Inc, and from 8VC outside the submitted work. Mr Beckman reported personal fees from Aledade outside the submitted work. Dr McWilliams reported grants from Arnold Ventures during the conduct of the study; and serving as a paid member of the academic advisory board for FAIR Health and an unpaid member of the board of directors for the Institute for Accountable Care. No other disclosures were reported.
Funding/Support: This study was supported by a grant from Arnold Ventures.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: Arnold Ventures had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessary reflect the official views of Arnold Ventures.