Tuesday, February 20, 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: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

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Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18