As of January 1 of this year, hospitals are required to post prices of common health services on their websites via consumer-friendly tools for patient use. Prior to implementation of this rule, hospitals were only required to publish their gross, undiscounted charges for services, which are rarely what patients or insurers actually pay. Under the hospital price transparency rule finalized by the Trump Administration, hospitals must also publish payer-negotiated rates and the cost of discounted care for uninsured patients – though many hospitals are currently noncompliant.
An objective of this price transparency rule is to allow patients to compare prices across hospitals and “shop” for lower-priced care. However, a recent KFF Health Tracking Poll finds the vast majority of adults are unaware or say this requirement does not exist. Seven in ten (69%) say they are unsure whether hospitals are required to disclose the prices of treatments and procedures and an additional one in five (22%) say hospitals are not required to disclose this information. About one in ten (9%) are aware hospitals are required to disclose the prices of treatments and procedures on their websites.
Most adults do not know that hospitals are required to disclose the price of care
The low level of awareness of this newly adopted federal requirement is consistent across different age groups, income levels, and health status. Even among people with chronic conditions, who would be more likely to need hospital care, the majority either are unaware of hospital price transparency requirements or think that they do not exist.
Few adults research the price of care at a hospital
When asked whether they or a family member had gone online to research the price of a treatment at a hospital, the majority of adults (85%) said they had not. This finding is consistent with prior research showing that few adults shop for best-priced care. Among other reasons, many families do not have a need for hospital care in any given year, so might not be expected to look for prices.
Fourteen percent of adults reported that they or a family member went online in the past six months to research the price of a treatment at a hospital, with differences in age groups, income, and party identification. Younger adults (ages 18-29 and those between 30-49 years old) were more likely to say they or a family member had searched for the price of care online (23% and 16%, respectively) than older adults ages 50-64 (10%) and 65 and older (9%). Adults with higher household incomes (between $40,000-$89,999 and those at and over $90,000) were also more likely to say they or a family member had researched prices online (19% and 17%) than adults with household incomes below $40,000 (11%). Democrats are somewhat more likely to say they researched prices for care online than Republicans (16% and 10%, respectively), though this could correlate with other factors beyond partisanship.
People who did search for hospital prices were no more likely to be aware of the hospital price transparency requirements than those who did not search for prices. In fact, adults who did search for hospital prices were somewhat more likely to incorrectly say that there is no federal requirement (33%) than those who did not search for hospital prices (20%). Even if people search for prices on hospital websites, they may not find prices; our earlier research found that many hospitals are not in compliance with the federal rules. Moreover, some hospitals have taken measures to make it harder for patients to search for prices.
Price transparency requirements in health care generally have bipartisan support, with the latest rules on price disclosure promulgated by the Trump Administration. Addressing the cost of care continues to be a priority for Americans across both sides of the aisle. Price transparency may help some patients seek lower-priced care for non-emergency medical treatment and incur fewer costs, but the available pricing information has to be accessible and useful for that to happen, and patients would first need to be aware that they can find the price of care online. With only one in ten adults aware of the federal requirement for hospitals to publicly post prices for services, the potential for price transparency efforts to reduce costs remains a question.