lawmakers push bill to reveal hospital costs

Mar. 27, 2013 @ 05:42 PM

CHARLOTTE — Two state lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that's designed to help patients in North Carolina find the best prices on medical procedures.

Sens. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Harry Brown, R-Onslow, issued a statement saying the goal is to improve medical billing transparency, reduce health care costs and help consumers make better-informed decisions about their treatment.

"North Carolinians are faced with having more of their paychecks going toward health insurance premiums and more of their tax dollars funding Medicaid services," Rucho said. "They deserve to know and understand what they are paying for - and to make informed choices about their care."

A statement from the two senators says the bill would require hospitals and outpatient surgery centers to disclose all treatment costs associated with the top 50 most common procedures performed at their facilities. That information would be published via the North Carolina Health Information Exchange, the state's public information forum.

The bill also prevents hospitals and outpatient surgery centers from charging patients twice for radiology services provided once.

In addition, the act would require every hospital to disclose its annual charity care spending and display its charity care policy, both on its website and on-site at the facility. It also calls for the elimination of the ability of state-owned hospitals to garnish tax refunds for unpaid hospital bills, allowing patients to pursue legitimate billing questions and disputes through the legal system.

Officials with the N.C. Hospital Association have worked to provide needed information to patients and "recognize the importance of being even more transparent," association spokesman Don Dalton told The Charlotte Observer.

Dalton said the association has established a task force of hospital trustees to work through these and other issues.

"The hospital association will look for opportunities to be supportive of the Senate transparency bill," he said. "This is a comprehensive package. We will work with the legislature to understand the details."