Study of hospital online price vs. telephone price

Sept. 19, 2023

According to a Sept. 19 press release from Rice University, a new study entitled “Comparison of Hospital Online Price and Telephone Price for Shoppable Services” was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine. The study found that hospitals in the U.S. may quote very different prices for their services depending on how one finds the information.

The press release stated, “In this cross-sectional study of 60 U.S. hospitals, there was a significant difference in prices found online and those given over the phone to ‘secret shoppers.’”

“The prices given on the phone were substantially different from those posted online,” said Vivian Ho, the James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “And the cash prices given over the phone were not always the less expensive price. Moreover, prices for the same services vary wildly across different hospitals even in the same city. Anywhere from a 30% to 100% difference in price.”

Due to the Hospital Price Transparency Rule, cash prices are required to be posted online, although many hospitals do not post their prices online or they are difficult to find.

“The authors calculated the difference between prices given by a hospital online versus over the phone for vaginal childbirth and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),” the press release continued. “They identified different hospitals as top-ranked or safety-net hospitals—safety-net hospitals typically provide care to individuals regardless of their ability to pay.”

Further, “For vaginal childbirth, 63% of top-ranked hospitals were able to provide both online and phone prices compared with 30% of safety-net hospitals and 21% for non-top-ranked, non-safety-net hospitals. For brain MRI, 85% of the top-ranked hospitals and 100% of the non-top-ranked, non-safety-net hospitals were able to provide both online and telephone prices, but only 50% of safety-net hospitals were able to do so.”

Mark Cuban, one of the co-authors of the study was quoted in the press release. He said, “Transparency is critical to changing the trajectory of healthcare costs in this country. Our paper shows that while some progress has been made in hospital transparency, we still have a ways to go.”

Rice University has the press release.