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April 16, 2014

AG: More transparency needed on hospital fees

At least 22 of the state’s 29 acute care hospitals charge facility fees to patients for services rendered in hospital-affiliated physicians’ offices that could be miles away from the hospital, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in a report released Wednesday.

The fees, which can range from $100 to more than $1,000 and often catch patients by surprise, have become increasingly common as economic and regulatory factors have incentivized independent physicians to sell their practices to hospitals, the report said.

Jepsen is urging the legislature to pass legislation that would require clearer fee disclosures and force hospitals and doctors to notify his office of mergers and sales, with the aim of better enforcing anti-trust laws.

The Connecticut Hospital Association, which said in February that its members would voluntarily provide greater disclosure of the fees, said in a statement Tuesday that it supports Jepsen’s efforts to make pricing more transparent.

“Connecticut hospitals…agree that when seeking a physician, patients should not be surprised to learn after the fact that they are being treated at a hospital,” CHA said.

Jepsen credited hospitals for that voluntary action, but argued a law is still needed.

“Connecticut residents need and deserve far greater notification and transparency in the charging of facility fees in order to facilitate real choice,” the report said.

The report said hospitals with which Jepsen’s team spoke argued that the fees are necessary because they cover the costs of imaging equipment, electronic health records and care for uninsured patients.

The report said there is reason to question those reasons. Doctors who are acquired by a hospital are often paid higher fees because hospital systems have more negotiating power with insurers. Medicare also pays hospitals according to higher fee schedules than independent doctors.

That, he said, leaves “some doubt as to the financial necessity of also charging substantial facility fees.”

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