Comparing prices at the big 3 local hospitals: Are you getting the best rates and what do the prices really mean?

Posted at 10:29 AM, Feb 01, 2019

CLEVELAND — Do you shop around and find the best prices for your medical needs? As of this year, hospitals have to post prices for common procedures supposedly to help patients. 5 On Your Side Investigators shopped the local medical systems for you, but the numbers certainly don't tell the whole story.

"This is interesting about the much they charge," said Pat Willis as she looked over local healthcare costs.

She’s like many of us. She wants to save money on medical bills.

“It's just like you're going grocery shopping. You go to the one store because the prices are cheaper,” Willis told us.

We compiled lists of common procedures posted on the websites of University Hospitals, Metrohealth System, and Cleveland Clinic. Differences can be in the hundreds. The Cleveland Clinic charges $169 more for a physical therapy evaluation than University Hospitals. On the other hand, University Hospitals charges $218 more than the Cleveland Clinic for a chest x-ray with two views.

"Every hospital… it's up to them what they want to charge," said Willis, who is a professional saver. She's the president of Medical Bill Advocate, LLC. For more than 10 years, people from all over the country have hired her to find problems with their bills.

"$350 for a CT scan. And then I'll see another place $3,500 for a CT scan,” said Willis.

“Does that make sense to you?” we asked.

“No,” she told us.

We found thousands of dollars in differences as well here locally. A C-section delivery costs nearly $2500 more at UH than Metro. Certain operating room charges show UH is $2600-$2700 more than Metro. And the biggest difference came for Neonatal ICU care where UH charges $9292 and MetroHealth bills it at $3826. That’s nearly $5500 apart.

"There's no rules or nothing,” said Willis.

Cleveland Clinic sent us a statement saying—in part—it has "...fully complied with the CMS requirement by posting our comprehensive hospital charges list on our website.”

Cleveland Clinic released this statement following our investigation:

“Since late 2016, Cleveland Clinic has made estimates for care available to patients when scheduling surgical and diagnostic services and upon request for all other services. We have fully complied with the CMS requirement by posting our comprehensive hospital charges list on our website. Most patients do not pay these rates as their specific healthcare plan coverage determines any out-of-pocket charges. Our financial advocates are available to help patients understand and calculate their potential financial obligations before they receive care. An online estimation tool is also available on our website. We also provide financial assistance to patients who qualify. More information can be found on our website at here."

More information can be found on the Cleveland Clinic's website here.

Neither University Hospitals nor Metrohealth System have sent us a response back.

Out of the 29 categories analyzed, MetroHealth offered the cheapest prices in 22 of them.

3 Hospital Systems Price Co... by on Scribd

Some people might wonder does cheaper mean you'll get compromised care?

"No. That doesn't really mean anything,” said Willis. “They just set their own prices, and this is how they feel. They want to make sure people are taken care of."

But here's the catch about the posted costs, they're not what you're going to pay.

Your insurance or Medicare or Medicaid plus discounts and other factors will go into your final price. And when you get that bill, Willis said you have to speak up.

“Ask right up front for the itemized bill...not a summary bill, an itemized bill,” she told us. Willis said itemized bills don't come to you explaining the charges. She wants hospitals to go further. "Automatically give you an itemized bill instead of having to fight tooth and nail for one."

Willis went on to say the new rules making hospitals post prices are jumping-off points but more can be done.

"We have a long way to go when it comes to transparency. Is that correct?” we asked.

“Absolutely. This is just a start. It's the tip of the iceberg truthfully,” she replied.

Willis told us, in general, hospitals have stopped listing some specific prices even in the itemized bills. Some charges are now thrown under the category of "room and board" and they refuse to break down what's all involved.