A new rule in the new year is all about making it easier on you when it comes to your health care and how much you pay.

Starting Jan. 1 hospitals are now required to post their prices online.

But is this new tool actually helpful for consumers?

We at KARE-11 discovered every major health care system in Minnesota is currently following this new federal mandate, but the price lists themselves are a bit convoluted.

“I think this will only confuse consumers,” Wendy Burt of the Minnesota Hospital Association explains.

Some of the price lists go on for more than a thousand pages, using abbreviations, acronyms and medical jargon that might confuse consumers, Burt says.

“They have every component listed, so, you can’t bundle everything together to make sense of it,” Burt says.

For example, on the price list for Fairview Health, the very first price that’s listed is for a two-millimeter hex-screw driver for $343.

Another listing was for an ADH co-seal applicator for $88.

“This information is not particularly helpful for consumers,” Burt explains. “For example, if I were to get a knee replacement, I would need to add up all the prices for that procedure.”

Besides the confusion, Burt says the prices that are listed don’t reflect what consumers will actually end up paying.

She says the prices are meant to serve as guidelines for insurance providers.

These providers will use the information to negotiate rates with various health care systems and will eventually use it to set their own prices and plans.

“Even though two people may have the same insurance card, with the same insurance company, they may have different plans and different deductibles and could end up paying different amounts,” Burt explains.

The Minnesota Hospital Association recommends asking hospitals for an estimate instead of relying on these new price lists.

Health care systems are federally required to give patients estimates upon request.

Some health care systems ask consumers to call in their requests, while others like Mayo Clinic have created special online estimators consumers can use to get individualized prices.

The Minnesota Hospital Association also has a price check tool on its website.

Consumers can use the tool to search out a variety of procedures and then compare the prices at a various hospitals and clinics.

However, Burt says the best thing consumers can do is call their insurance company.
"Insurers are in the best position to give you, their customers, the exact amount you are going to pay, because they know your plan, your deductible and where you’re at for the year,” Burt says.

For more information visit these helpful websites:

Minnesota Hospital Price Check https://www.mnhospitals.org/data-reporting/minnesota-hospital-price-check

Mayo Clinic Cost Estimator https://costestimator.mayoclinic.org/

Hennepin Healthcare Price Estimator https://www.hennepinhealthcare.org/billing/costs-of-care-at-hennepin-healthcare/