Three Grand Forks area hospitals appear to be in compliance with a new federal regulation that requires U.S. hospitals to post a list of charges on their respective websites.
According to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the new regulation requires hospitals to list the prices of everything from medications to supplies and cost of procedures. The list must also be in a "computer-readable" format, such as an Excel spreadsheet or CSV text file.
Altru's price list is provided under the "charges and prices" section of the website. To access it people must click on "Patients and Visitors" on the hospital's home page and then choose "Billing and Insurance," finally they must click on "charges and prices."
The full list of prices can be found under the "Can I receive an estimate for a procedure I have coming up?" question by clicking on "fee schedule," which will then allow a person to download a spreadsheet of hundreds of prices of procedures provided by Altru.
The page notes that "these charges do not reflect insurance adjustments."
"Due to contractual obligations and individual situations, the prices paid are most often less than the amounts charged," the hospital's website says.
The website also says that charges will be adjusted periodically with the goal to be priced at or near the Upper Midwest median, as well as competitive with other providers in the region. Altru also states it wants to be "proactive regarding reimbursement policies and contracts with major payers."
Stan Salwei, Altru's Director of Revenue Cycle, said in a statement that the company is "excited about this important step forward in providing consumer-friendly health care."
"Our field is becoming more and more consumer-driven, and with that comes the desire for clear, up-front costs, similar to what we've all come to expect in retail-based industries," he said.
Salwei said the intent of the new regulation is to "offer patients education around what they pay for care." He said Altru is also in the process of implementing a price estimator tool that would take into account insurance information and would offer a "more clear picture of costs incurred directly by the patient."
Pete Antonson, CEO of Northwood Deaconess Health Center in Northwood, N.D., said he believes the overall motivation of the regulation is "good," particularly for those who have multiple health care options in a large city. He said the rule may have less of an impact on places that only have one option for hospital services.
"At least in small towns, I think (people) are more tied into, who is my provider and not necessarily what he charges as long it's not outrageous," Antonson said. "Should prices be the first thing people look at? Maybe it should be looked at more but I think people want somebody they're comfortable with when they go to the doctor and somebody they can trust."
Antonson said he doesn't believe the regulation has too much effect on North Dakota or rural areas in particular.
"In Northwood, they're either coming to us or they're not," he said, noting that people will likely either choose to stay in town for health care, shopping or other needs or will make the 30-mile trip to Grand Forks.
He also noted that very few places in North Dakota, such as Fargo, even have the option of multiple hospitals, which means many people are either going to be getting their health care at a rural hospital or those people would have already been traveling to get certain services.
Northwood's pricing list is available under its "about us" tab, in the "governance" section. It will also ask people to download a full spreadsheet of procedures available at the hospital.
RiverView Health in Crookston has its list available under the "current, standard charges" section of the website.