HCA Healthcare
February 18, 2019

Question: I have been searching online and trying to locate Mission Hospital's price list, as it is required by law this year. Can you please help? I'm trying to figure out how much surgery would be without costing an arm and a leg.

My answer: So, if you're having an arm and a leg removed, do you come out even?

Real answer: This is a classic, "You got your good news and your bad news."

The good news is, Mission, like most other hospitals in America, has posted a price list.

The bad news? Well, I'll let this January article from the Nashville Tennessean tell the tale:

"Experts say the effort is well-intentioned but functionally useless: The pricing sheets are so complex, voluminous and misleading that no layperson could use them to decipher hospital prices, much less actually compare hospitals as intended."

The Tennessean quoted John Deane, a former hospital executive who runs a healthcare nonprofit in Nashville.

“I think it’s fair to say it’s a noble intent,” Deane said “The problem is, the way this is unfolding, it is virtually irrelevant.”

Usually, when someone is throwing around the term "virtually irrelevant," they're discussing my career, but I digress.

Let's see what Mission Health, which has just been acquired by Nashville-based HCA Healthcare, had to say about all this.

"Mission Health complies with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ price transparency requirements and those prices can be found here: missionhealth.org/financial-services/estimate-cost-of-care/pricing-transparency-information," said Rowena Buffett Timms, senior vice president for government and community relations at Mission. "But those prices are often largely unrelated to what someone actually pays. That is why so many health systems have questioned the accuracy, reliability and value of this requirement, noting the considerable confusion and frustration that it is likely to create."

While Mission Hospital has posted price information on line, "It’s important to note that costs may be impacted by patients’ health insurance coverage, contracts their insurer has with healthcare providers, eligibility for charity care programs and more," said Mission Senior Vice President Rowena Buffett Timms. (Photo11: Angeli Wright/awright@citizen-times.com)

The link above will indeed guide you to a Mission page that will allow you click on a really long spreadsheet that lists various procedures and maladies and prices. For instance, "Chest Pain" is listed as $19,673, while an "Appendectomy without complicated principal diag w CC" will cost you $35,672.

Appendectomies run from $28,537 to $72,882, depending on the "CC's" or whatever else complicates matters. Peptic ulcers can be "uncomplicated" or "complicated," with a variety of other factors, and they can range from $18,461 to $28,123.

So on the one hand, you might get a very rough range of how much something may cost, but...

"It’s important to note that costs may be impacted by patients’ health insurance coverage, contracts their insurer has with healthcare providers, eligibility for charity care programs and more," Timms said. "Because everyone’s circumstances are unique, we are best able to assist patients when they call our Care Access Center at 828-213-9634. This allows us to give patients information specific to their own personal coverage, circumstances and needs."

As a guy who's gone in for a few surgeries over the past few years, including a neck fusion, knee repair, shoulder repair and a hernia repair (yes, it's almost time for someone to just take me out back and put me down), I can tell you the doctor's office and Mission can usually give you a pretty solid idea of what you're going to pay. 

Suffice it to say, it's going to hurt more than the injury.

These new listings are not really going to help most consumers comparison shop.

The Tennessean also interviewed Angela Simmons, the vice president of reimbursement and revenue at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, often ranked among the best hospitals in the nation.

The newspaper noted that Simmons is "both a hospital administrator and an accountant, and yet she said the data released by her own hospital would not help her compare prices when planning even a common surgery."

“It would be absolutely impossible for me, and I know a fair amount about this,” Simmons said. “So, it would be impossible for the consumer.”

Once again, the federal government has solved our problem!

This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 828-232-5847 or jboyle@citizentimes.com