Find out if Tampa Bay hospitals are hiding costs of medical care

A national nonprofit found only about a third of Florida hospitals are complying with a federal law.
The new study found that a large majority of hospitals are continuing to hide the cost of care from consumers -- including 107 from Florida -- two years after a law was enacted requiring them to post their real prices online.
The new study found that a large majority of hospitals are continuing to hide the cost of care from consumers -- including 107 from Florida -- two years after a law was enacted requiring them to post their real prices online. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2020) ]
Published Feb. 10|Updated Feb. 12

TAMPA — Only about a third of Florida hospitals are fully complying with a federal law that requires them to disclose their prices for services, according to a new study.

Though most of the hospitals have posted files, many were incomplete, illegible or lacked prices that were clearly associated with both a payer and plan, according to a recent report released by Patient Rights Advocate. In Florida, that included 107 hospitals that were not fully complying with the rule, the report said.

The independent nonprofit analyzed the websites of 2,000 U.S. hospitals, focusing on the nation’s largest health systems. Some large hospitals in Tampa Bay failed to provide an adequate amount of negotiated rates or revealed partial or no information on costs of care for their services. Included in that list were: BayCare Health System, Tampa General Hospital and HCA hospitals in Brandon, Tampa, Sun City Center and St. Petersburg.

The group released its findings in its fourth semiannual price transparency report.

Related: How Tampa Bay hospitals are rated

The Hospital Price Transparency law, which took effect in 2021, requires hospitals to use plain language to describe as many as 300 medical services and procedures that can be scheduled, such as an ultrasound and mammogram.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services increased the maximum annual penalty from $109,500 to over $2 million for hospitals not complying with law, but only two hospitals in Georgia were fined.

Several hospital systems and a group that represents them disputed the report’s findings.

Mary Mayhew, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Hospital Association, said not only are most hospitals in compliance with the federal hospital price transparency rule but that has increased significantly since the 2021 implementation.

“Florida hospitals remain aligned with the (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) guidance on the hospital price transparency rule. Our hospitals will continue working collaboratively (with the federal agency) to ensure they stay compliant and ultimately help patients navigate the health care system,” said Mayhew.

Cynthia Fisher, founder of Patient Rights Advocate, said consumers should be given enough information to make the best decision for their care and coverage.

“Everyone has a story of being overcharged,” said Fisher. “But as long as the hospitals and insurance companies can keep everyone in the dark and keep prices hidden, not only can they charge whatever they want but they can stop anyone from fighting because people don’t have any proof of what the price is.”

A recent analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent financial agency within the Federal Reserve, said that medical debt accounted for roughly two-thirds of all U.S. bankruptcy filings.

HCA hospitals spokesperson Deb McKell said their websites include a consumer-friendly tool, the Patient Payment Estimator, that provides relevant information to understand out-of-pocket costs for hospital care, including those that are uninsured.

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“In addition, we have posted contracted rates with third-party payers,” said McKell.

BayCare Health System spokesperson Lisa Razler said the nonprofit is in full compliance with the transparency requirements and helping patients understand health care costs and prices.

It offers a pricing estimator tool, which patients can use on BayCare’s website to get a price or a customized estimate based on individual insurance plans.

Staff writer Christopher O’Donnell contributed to this report.