According to NBC news, Americans spend more than $9,500 per person on health care annually. With this such a big chunk of a person’s income and livelihood, it goes to reason transparency in healthcare pricing would be a popular subject.

Although the new federal rule for hospitals to list their prices on their web sites began Jan. 1, this may not be as big of a help to patients as it initially seems.

The federal law did not provide a template for all hospitals to utilize. This provides a problem when trying to search for a procedure or an item. Is it under X-ray or xray? Is it called a wrist scan or a scan of the ulna? How these are worded can make a huge impact on if a patient is able to find and compare the information.

Know there’s a big difference between what the list price is and what the actual transaction price is — the cost the patient is responsible for. This will depend directly on the patient’s insurance, co-pays and deductibles. Medicare and Medicaid have different reimbursement rates. And what about cash payments? Often steep discounts are offered for these.

It’s important to remember how important convenience is – how close is the hospital or clinic located to me? — as well as to consider each hospital’s safety record and quality of care. Are you going to see the provider whom you have built a relationship with or are you simply going to go where you read on-line has the cheapest colonoscopy? And, remember, each case is very different.

While it can be helpful to find out and know a knee replacement surgery costs in your neighboring state compared to what it costs in your home state, it’s also important to keep in mind the reason you currently live where you do and understand there are certain costs associated with the lifestyle you enjoy.

So, check prices, ask questions and ask for any discounts you can (preferred provider, cash, etc.), and stay informed on how you can be proactive about your health and your healthcare.

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