The ‘why’ to talking about pricing with patients is easy: NMC believes patients have a right to know what the healthcare services they are considering are likely going to cost them. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) agree, saying:
“Hospital price transparency helps Americans know the cost of a hospital item or service before receiving it … This information will make it easier for consumers to shop and compare prices across hospitals and estimate the cost of care before going to the hospital.” —https://www.cms.gov/hospital-price-transparency
NMC, like all hospitals, is moving in that direction. There is even a Federal mandate for progress by January 1, 2021. For NMC’s patients, particularly those who have high deductible plans or a health savings account, this has been a welcomed step forward. We hope that the added insights into NMC’s pricing help them make informed decisions about their healthcare dollars. As we look at this topic, there are important points to understand:
- We understand that healthcare costs are a burden for many in our community. We are concerned about how much our population spends on healthcare. NMC has worked intentionally over the years to try and maintain prices below the average of Vermont’s hospitals. While this can work against us financially, we see it as part of our prudent responsibility to our community to be as efficient as possible and share the benefit of that efficiency with our community.
- We are not saying Vermont hospitals’ have priced their services incorrectly. Each hospital is unique in its setting and must respond accordingly. Cost of living, age of facilities, workforce challenges, and other factors are different for each of Vermont’s fourteen not-for-profit hospitals. We know each hospital Board, Leadership Team, and Medical Staff are doing what they know is right for their community.
- Exact total cost predictions in healthcare are difficult given the uncertainty of how any individual care might unfold. Still, estimates based on averages and ranges of pricing do help provide important context for patients.
- We have tried to be fair with examples of how NMC prices compare. The State of Vermont’s “Hospital Report Card” publicly shares comparative pricing for common procedures across Vermont’s hospitals. It is available online at https://www.healthvermont.gov/health-statistics-vital-records/health-care-systems-reporting/hospital-report-cards and accessible through links on NMC’s website and the Green Mountain Care Board website. It does show some instances where NMC is higher than the average, it shows typically NMC’s prices are below the state average.
NMC is investing in even greater pricing transparency. We are currently activating our new Accu-Reg system in Patient Financial Services. Among the advances brought by Accu-Reg is a user-friendly online price estimator. Right now, patients are welcomed to call Patient Financial Services and one of our staff will work with them to get an estimate. Once Accu-Reg is fully activated in the coming weeks, patients will also have the choice of using this online tool through the NMC website to obtain a price estimate. Naturally, our Patient Financial Services staff will still be just a call or email away with additional information, including insights into the financial assistance NMC offers to help alleviate the burden of medical costs.
We know that the relationship with the medical provider is a crucial part of choosing where to receive care. For more than 130 years, NMC (and our predecessors) has been a trusted provider in our region. Still, we understand the importance of other factors: speed of access, quality metrics, and pricing. It is with that understanding that we commit to improved transparency about how medical pricing works and compares within the healthcare system.
—Jonathan Billings, Vice President of Community Relations