Letters to the Editor

The confusing cost of health care

Some readers of The Tribune’s recent article headlined “Costs vary greatly at local hospitals” (Nov. 24) might conclude that hospital “charges” are a good indicator of whether one hospital is more or less expensive than another. That is a false conclusion.

Hospital charges are not prices in the conventional sense and they rarely bear any relationship to the actual amount that patients pay for care. They also don’t reflect what Medicare, Medi-Cal or most private insurers pay to hospitals.

The single set of charges maintained by every hospital, known as a “charge master,” is a relic from a time when Medicare did pay hospitals based on charges, and is based on a federal law that prohibits providers from charging Medicare and its beneficiaries more than others for the same services. Nowadays, Medicare and Medi-Cal pay hospitals uniformly for similar services regardless of the amount charged and insurers pay based on the price they negotiate with each hospital or hospital system.

The article also suggests that the uninsured are often billed for the full amount set out on the charge master. That may be true at some hospitals, but not at Sierra Vista or Twin Cities. Our hospitals are a part of one of the first hospital systems in the nation to provide comprehensive discounted pricing to uninsured patients. Our “Compact With the Uninsured” policy ensures that these patients receive discounted rates that are in line with those negotiated by insurers.

At Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Twin Cities Community Hospital, we recognize that more and more financial responsibility is shifting to patients and the current pricing system can be confusing. We strongly encourage all patients who need hospital care to contact either their insurer or our hospitals to obtain information about the estimated cost for treatment.

We are proud to be a community partner in delivering high-quality, trusted health care.