Raleigh, N.C. — Consumers would be able to compare prices for various medical procedures upfront under a bill that the state Senate passed unanimously Thursday.
Senate Bill 473 would require hospitals to outline the costs they would charge to someone without insurance, as well as to people covered by Medicaid, Medicare, the State Health Plan and the range of rates negotiated with insurers.
The information would be provided quarterly to the state Department of Health and Human Services, starting next March, for the 100 most common inpatient and outpatient procedures. The state would then make those figures publicly available.
"All of this is very important for the consumer, whether that be the patient or the businesses or individuals who buy health insurance," said sponsor Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg.
By dividing the procedures into "diagnostic related groups," Rucho said, the state can prevent providers from bundling different services together, giving consumers a better comparison of prices charged by various hospitals.
"I think it really is a consumer bill of rights," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. "(It will) get some good data out there that we all need to have available to make intelligent decisions before we consume health care services."
Other portions of the legislation, which now heads to the House, would require hospital bills to explain charges in plain language, prevent wage garnishment of anyone who owes a hospital bill to a public hospital, require hospitals to post their charity care policies and costs online and prevent providers from charging repeated fees for services provided only once.
"This is a first step that we in North Carolina are making forward in trying to get some control in the price of health care," Rucho said, promising more legislation in the future.