If you’re a patient about to enter hospital for a procedure or treatment, one of the hardest things to obtain is an estimate of how much all of that is going to cost. Talk about healthcare being an industry, it is well within a consumer’s rights to know what he is paying for and how much it will set him back.
In today’s world of egalitarianism and transparency, one would expect that hospitals would give a reasonable estimate of the expected expenditure, in much the same way that a consumer expects a price quote for services to be rendered in practically every other industry. But yet, as a government study in the US published last month confirmed, consumers are usually unable to get accurate information about how much medical treatment will cost them before they receive it.
There were several reasons disclosed for this: difficulty of itemizing health care services in advance, billing coming from multiple providers, and the variety of insurance benefit structures. Add to this legal and competitive concerns about sharing price information, causing price comparisons to be extremely difficult.
I have always maintained that unlike other industries and businesses, healthcare services do not provide any ‘money-back’ guarantees should good outcomes are not achieved. Even if the surgery was a failure and death results, the costs of services provided still have to be paid by the consumer. Worse, if the surgery undergoes complications despite competent surgeons and fail-proof equipment, the unexpected expenditure incurred will prove to be an extra burden for the consumer. Herein lies another problem – the nature of medical treatment and surgery is such that, despite the best of intentions, unexpected complications can occur and upset the most carefully-thought budgets.
What do I recommend? Several hospitals now put up a price-list on their websites and it may be prudent to search around if you are price-conscious and paying out-of-pocket. But the final decision still depends on other factors like the quality of healthcare delivery and the reputation of the attending doctor as these do determine a good outcome. Legislation is pending in many countries where it is mandatory to exhibit a price-list so that price variations are transparent.
Even then, these price-lists will come to naught in the case of a medical emergency, where its really a case of Hobson’s choice and the consumer is pressured to pay for the services, like it or not. Yet again another example of why healthcare is not like any other industry..