New federal rules could improve health care price transparency

Michael S. O’Neil

  • Michael S. O’Neil is senior vice president, strategy & development, for Healthcare Bluebook

“Would you like Wednesday or Friday?” the medical scheduler asked.

That simple question catches many people flat-footed. It’s easy to take it at face value, look at your calendar and determine which date you prefer for a needed surgery. In my case, it was an arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus — one of the pieces of cartilage in the knee that, when damaged, can cause significant pain and swelling.

But there are consequences to selecting a surgery date that go beyond the block of time on your calendar. For me, there was about $11,000 hanging in the balance.

That’s because behind the question of Wednesday or Friday was the issue of where the surgery would take place. On Wednesdays my orthopedic surgeon practiced at his affiliated hospital. On Fridays he performed procedures at the outpatient surgery center located literally across the street. The cost for his work was about the same at both locations, but the facility fees at the hospital led to a price tag that was about $11,000 higher than the cost for the same procedure, with the same doctor, at the outpatient location across the street.

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