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McCrory signs 'hospital transparency' bill into law

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TWC News: McCrory signs 'hospital transparency' bill into law
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RALEIGH -- On Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory signed what some people have dubbed the “hospital transparency” bill into law.

It requires hospitals to provide a list of its prices for certain medical procedures and services so the prices can be posted online.

“This is a sort of feel good bill,” said Adam Searing, health director for the N.C. Justice Center.

Starting next year, hospitals will have to list their prices for the 100 most common medical procedures, 20 most common surgical procedures and 20 most common imaging procedures.

Those prices will be posted on the Department of Health and Human Services website.

“For the average person, it does mean if you go to the hospital or you get a bill from the hospital, it's going to be a little bit easier to figure out the prices and charges,” Searing said.

Earlier this year, the federal government released nationwide data on hospital prices, showing a wide range of charges for the same services here in North Carolina and across the country.

UNC Health Care released a statement supporting the new law, saying:

“The UNC Health Care system, which includes Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and other facilities, supports lawmakers’ effort to improve transparency in pricing and billing. UNC Health Care already takes many steps to help our patients understand what services, procedures and treatments cost, regardless of their ability to pay. Those steps include providing cost estimates before surgeries and other procedures, posting our generous charity care policies online and prominently in our facilities and more. We are working closely with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to comply with all aspects of the new law.”

But health experts say this new hospital transparency law is not as big a win for patients as it seems, because it doesn't do anything to help bring those prices down.

“It's nice the legislature did this,” Searing said. “It makes it easier for people to shop around. But by not expanding Medicaid, they took a huge chunk out of the budget of every hospital in the state and made it harder for the lowest income people to get care.”

A statement from the North Carolina Hospital Association agreed, saying:

“Hospitals have been moving in this direction for some time now. We also desire to see lower healthcare costs. Unfortunately, as long as the state continues to pay hospitals less than our costs of caring for Medicaid patients, reducing hospital payments by almost $150 million more this year, and does nothing to address those who have no insurance, costs will continue to rise on businesses and patients who fund health care.”

“Just having some transparency in prices can't hurt,” Searing said. “A more easy-to-understand market is a better market for everyone.”

The law also makes changes to the State Personnel Act, now making it easier for the governor to hire or fire up to 1,500 state government positions no longer protected under personnel rules. The law also shortens the grievance process for employees.

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