However, when the team expanded their effort by contacting both the hospital and the relevant health care providers, they were able to up the success rate to north of 60 percent.
"From the glass half-full perspective, we found that with some hard work and incredible perseverance we were able to get a full price for service from about 60 percent of hospitals," Cram said. "That's if you include both prestigious orthopedic institutions and general hospitals."
That means that much of the time people can do this, he added.
"They can actually shop around just like the way you would for a Honda Civic," Cram said. "And I would say that since we're talking about your health, the effort is worth it."
But from the "glass half-empty perspective, for people who have limited health literacy, limited time, or are non-English-speaking, this process could be extremely daunting," acknowledged Cram.
What was striking was how ill-prepared hospitals were for their call, he said. "You get transferred from one person to another, and you get hung up on a lot . . . or you just don't get called back at all," he said.
That's because the insurance system is set up so patients don't negotiate prices, he noted. "The price most of us pay for our health care is hidden behind a veil, and varies enormously from place to place and for person to person for the exact same service depending on your coverage."
It's important that patients start pushing for this information, "because otherwise we're just giving hospitals a pass," he added.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, co-author of an accompanying editorial and chairman of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, expressed little surprise with the findings.
"The idea that not everyone can provide pricing reflects one of the deep problems with
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