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Federal judge rejects hospital group’s attempt to keep prices secret

The Trump administration argued that patients ‘deserve to know’ health care costs ahead of time

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On Tuesday, Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld a Trump administration policy requiring hospitals to disclose prices that they negotiate with insurers. 

These prices are usually kept secret, but the administration said price transparency would help reduce costs for patients. 

"Especially when patients are seeking needed care during a public health emergency, it is more important than ever that they have ready access to the actual prices of health care services," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Disclosing prices

In his decision, Judge Nichols rejected an attempt to block the policy made by a coalition of industry groups, which argued that disclosing the rates might confuse patients. Those prices aren’t the same as the amount they’re required to pay out-of-pocket, the group noted.

"The proposal does nothing to help patients understand their out-of-pocket costs. It also imposes significant burdens on hospitals at a time when resources are stretched thin and need to be devoted to patient care," said Melinda Hatton, the group's general counsel. "Hospitals and health systems have consistently supported efforts to provide patients with information about the costs of their medical care. This is not the right way to achieve this important goal."

Judge Nichols countered by saying that “hospitals may be affected by market changes and need to respond to a market where consumers are more empowered.” 

Trump calls decision a ‘big victory’

In a tweet on Tuesday, Trump called the decision a “big victory” and said it will bring needed transparency to health care costs. 

“Patients deserve to know the price of care BEFORE they enter the hospital. Because of my action, they will,” he wrote. “This may very well be bigger than healthcare itself."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also celebrated the decision, which is slated to go into effect in January. 

“With today’s win, we will continue delivering on the president’s promise to give patients easy access to health care prices,” he said in a statement. “Especially when patients are seeking needed care during a public health emergency, it is more important than ever that they have ready access to the actual prices of health care services.”

The hospital coalition that sought to block the decision -- which included the Association of American Medical Colleges, Federation of American Hospitals, National Association of Children's Hospitals, and three hospitals -- said it intends to appeal. 

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