Go online to check Community Hospital’s prices

Technologist Lucas Clayon positions a pillow on a computerized axial tomography machine at Community Hospital in Grand Junction. The CAT scan now is used for colonoscopies, which screen for early signs of cancer and other medical conditions. Community is the first hospital in the state to list procedures’ costs online.

Want to know how much your hospital bill will be before you go?

Community Hospital, the first hospital in the state and only one of a handful of health care agencies nationwide, posts prices for its range of health care procedures on its website.

“People deserve to know,” Community Hospital spokeswoman Becky Jessen said. “It shouldn’t be a surprise, especially if it’s an elective procedure. It can be disconcerting to be in the hospital and just have no idea what the impact of that is going to be.”

Community Hospital has listed its prices online for the past few weeks. Hospital officials decided to post the information for a variety of reasons, one being that health care reform calls for more transparency. Community Hospital also claims its procedures cost about 20 percent less than other hospitals in the Grand Valley, so why not advertise their rates.

Giving patients prices for procedures also helps prompt discussion between patients and physicians, said Community Hospital’s Chief Executive Officer Chris Thomas.

“We’re getting a lot of positive comments even from the physicians,” Thomas said, adding many physicians didn’t realize costs at Community Hospital were less than at other area hospitals.

The hospital lists estimated prices for procedures, but that does not include extras that would occur if complications arose. Physician fees, which are usually billed separately, are not included in the online estimates.

Cost should not be a patient’s only factor when considering health care options. Patients should consider the quality of a hospital, its staff and the quality of a procedure.

Also, physicians charge varying amounts, but that may not or should not be a factor for patients who want certain doctors or a higher level of care.

For example, Thomas said, a middle-aged person having hip surgery is probably going to want a replacement that will last 40 years, while an 80-year-old patient is not going to need a replacement of that caliber. Therefore it will cost more for a higher-quality transplant, but it should also be worth the cost over a lifetime of use.

St. Mary’s Hospital does not list its prices online, and it does not plan to do so, said spokeswoman Samantha Moe said.

St. Mary’s patients are encouraged to meet with financial counselors who can help estimate prices for procedures and how much insurance will cover and find other possible savings, she said.

Jessen said that since Community Hospital posted its rates, some patients have taken advantage of shopping around for services.

One woman who lives in Glenwood Springs opted to have a procedure completed at Community Hospital instead of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Jessen said.

The decision even meant finding a new physician in the Grand Junction area, yet despite that hassle, the cost savings of the procedure was worth it to the woman, Jessen said.

Listing health care costs can be good for consumers who have become accustomed to not knowing the true costs of health care because the benefits traditionally have been covered by employers.

Saving money on procedures can affect consumers’ future health insurance rates.

Ultimately, the more that health insurance companies have to pay for customers’ services, those higher costs will be passed onto customers in the form of costlier deductibles and premiums.

“We want people to be educated so they can have good discussions with physicians,” Thomas said. “The cheapest is not always the best. You want high-quality health care at a low cost.”

Ron Zwerin, spokesman of the Colorado Hospital Association, said hospitals in the state are transparent about their charges, but Community Hospital’s model should be commended for making those charges especially easy for the consumer to navigate.

“What Community Hospital is doing on this website is really neat,” he said. “It gives patients who don’t have insurance an idea what the costs will be and what the early-pay discount might be.”

“Hospitals are extremely vigilant about being transparent, but what Community Hospital is doing is in an innovative and neat way,” Zwerin said.


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