I-Team 10 Update: Strong Hospital's medical price hotline

Posted at: 02/06/2013 6:30 PM
Updated at: 02/06/2013 6:54 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

News10NBC got a call from Strong Hospital and officials wanted to talk. It's in direct response to our I-Team 10 investigation into the mystery of medical prices.
In our investigation, News10NBC wanted to know, why is it so hard to figure out what it costs to go to your doctor? News10NBC talked to high-deductible health insurance consumers like Dianne Kober. She showed us her medical bills from just one visit to the hospital. They covered her kitchen counter and she had no idea why she was charged what she was charged.

Our I-Team investigation showed it is virtually impossible to find out the exact cost of any medical procedure. But after the report Tuesday night, we got called by Strong Hospital and they wanted to talk because they believe they've come up with a solution.

Our I-Team investigation showed how difficult it is to find out the price of anything medical. From a simple doctors visit to a surgery. But at Strong Hospital, they think they've come up with a way to get as close to a price as they can.

Adam Anolik is one of the top finance men at Strong Hospital.
He watched our I-Team 10 investigation Tuesday night and saw people like Bonnie Bullivant who struggled to find out what a simple surgery on her wrist was going to cost.

Bonnie Bullivant said, “I think I counted 9 phone calls and a lot of frustration and anxiety went along with this because I couldn't get clear direct answers.”
Hearing this, Strong Hospital called us.

Adam Anolik, Financial Services, URMC, said, “We do believe that patients are looking for more price transparency in the marketplace today.”

So about a year ago, the hospital started a hotline to help patients coming to Strong figure out their out-of-pocket charges.

Here's how it works. A patient calls the hotline. The operator, with the patient's permission, calls the insurance company and finds out what specific plan the patient is on, including what's left on their deductible. The operator call the patient's doctor to find out exactly what the doctor prescribed. And within three business days, the patient is called back with an estimate of their out of pocket charges including the costs of the hospital room and all the doctors.

Anolik said, “It usually will be a range, but it's better than having no information.”

Strong isn't alone. Rochester General has an online cost estimator and Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield does too.

If you're a customer and needed a knee replacement, for example, you could find out that it will cost $21,000 at Strong and $17,000 at Unity. But again, these are only estimates, not your true cost as a consumer.

Jim Reed, Excellus Sr. VP for Sales and Marketing, said, “   Figuring out how to get individual people better cost information is certainly a key principle that the industry in general is trying to get closer toward so that true informed consumers are what we have out in the market.”

News10NBC Berkeley Brean said, “But it's lagging behind what consumers are forced to do now?”

Reed said, “It is lagging behind.”

Bullivant said, “It should be posted and clear, very clear. Because we are clear to them. They need to be clear to us.”

URMC Customer Price Hotline:
(585) 758-7801
It's a free service and open between 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.  The service provides only an estimate, but the hospital thinks it gets pretty close.