Health Check

Shopping for the best buy in health care is nearly impossible because hospitals are not required to disclose their prices, but that could change if a coalition of HMOs and retailers has their way.

Hipolito Leon spent 46 years in Miami before his first hospital visit. The uninsured builder was diagnosed with kidney stones, given a gown and an IV, then three hours later he was sent home.

When the $7,000 bill came, he was shocked. Now, a coalition of HMOs and retailers believes the system of health care pricing is broken. For example, they site a four dollar Tylenol or a $50 nicotine patch.

The group wants consumers to be able to price health care the same way they compare car prices.

"That's the mark they have on these simple small items, what is it on hip replacement? What is it on surgical? What is it on the cost of a room?" says Richard McAllister, FL
Retail Federation.

Hospital prices were regulated in Florida in the 1980's and didn't stop rising costs.

"Here we have over 15,000 items that you see down this list, the consumer wouldn't be able to pick out what these actually mean," says Rich Rasmussen, VP FL Hospital Association.

Now, the hospitals say their pricing is too complex and wouldn't make sense to the consumer.

"You don't ask your builder to break out for you every single price per board or per three penny nail you want to know what the overall cost of your house is going to be," says Rich Rasmussen.

Complex or not, Hipolito Leon still has his $7,000 hospital bill, but his kidney stone went away on its own.

Florida hospitals say the push by the HMOs for more pricing information is more about contract negotiations than benefiting consumers.