Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Hospital pricing hurts uninsured most

When Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater charges $49,370 for a joint replacement and Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville charges $118,735 for the same procedure, something is out of whack. It turns out that the entire enterprise of hospital billing is largely a farce that is most unfair for those who may be able to afford health care the least. It's one more sign of how America's health care system is in need of reform. Without transparent prices, consumers' care is at the whim of whatever someone else decides they can afford.

A transparency push by the Obama administration has pulled back the curtain on what insiders have long known. The release this week of what hospitals charge versus what Medicare reimburses has left hospital administrators scrambling to explain why the deck is so stacked against the uninsured. It has long been known that hospitals set different prices depending on the insurer. And governments, through Medicaid and Medicare, pay even less.

But keeping prices largely cloaked has allowed hospitals to prevent consumers from comparison shopping and putting downward pressure on prices. The worst affected are those patients not covered by insurance or the government who are quoted inflated prices and may put off needed care — even though a hospital might later discount the cost. It's one more reason why Florida's Legislature should expand Medicaid. The stack is decked against the working poor who can't afford insurance on their own.

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Letitia Stein plumbed the database of hospital billing information made available for the first time by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She found discrepancies in average charges among Tampa Bay area hospitals so vast that they were divorced from the actual costs of providing patient care. Hospitals affiliated with the for-profit HCA hospital chain had the highest charges for common procedures like joint replacement surgery and pneumonia treatment. Hospitals affiliated with the not-for-profit BayCare Health System charged some of the lowest rates. Even so, Morton Plant's $49,370 charge for joint replacement, while the lowest in the area, was still about four times its average Medicare reimbursement $12,346.

This was true across the country: Hospitals charged patients wildly differing rates for the same procedure and often many multiples of what Medicare paid. Even hospital insiders admit that billing practices are out of control and the charges are unsupportable, even if relatively few patients end up paying the official rate. Steve Short, chief financial officer at Tampa General Hospital, called the charging practices "absurd." Indeed. In other industries, it is called price-gouging.

Long term, the database should allow consumers to find the most cost-effective care for common procedures, which should help bend the medical cost curve and tame health care inflation. But for more complex situations, the patient will remain vulnerable until the industry — or government — demands more accountability. The industry is on notice.

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Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

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Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

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Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

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Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

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Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
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Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18