A North Carolina law requiring hospitals to provide public pricing on 140 medical procedures and services went into effect Wednesday, when it was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.
But don't expect more transparency for a few more months.
Spokespersons for Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health, which operate eight hospitals in Mecklenburg County, said the actual posting of charges isn't required until March 31 for inpatient procedures and June 30 for outpatient procedures.
Both systems say they'll be submitting data to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in advance of those dates. The state will publish the information on its DHHS website.
The new law also prevents hospitals, in certain situations, from putting a lien on a patient's residence to collect on unpaid medical bills. That provision takes effect Oct. 1. Hospitals will also be required to submit their charity care policies to DHHS for publication on the state website.
"Transparency is a good first step to fixing things, " said Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican who led the push for the changes.
The law, which received bipartisan support in the legislature, came about after a series of articles in the Observer and The News and Observer of Raleigh last year explored how the growing market power of hospitals has driven up prices.
The stories revealed soaring profits at nonprofit hospitals, seven-figure executive salaries, and efforts by hospitals to sue uninsured patients delinquent on their bills or to turn over the accounts to collection agencies.
"For too long, North Carolina patients have been in the dark on what they can expect to pay for common medical procedures when they are admitted to a hospital," McCrory said in a news release. "This new law gives patients and their doctors pricing information so they can make an informed financial decision with regard to their health care."
Earlier this year, the federal government published a database on the cost of 100 common hospital procedures and services across the country. The newspapers' review of hospital pricing in North Carolina found that, in three-fourths of the services examined, the highest price was triple or more compared to the lowest price for the same procedure. For example, the price for implanting a pacemaker in North Carolina ranged from $22,000 to $75,000, according to the federal database.
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