Data Analytics

Hospital billing data release grabs headlines

medical bill

Big data is a hot topic, but rarely is the release of an individual dataset front page news. On May 8, however, The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Huffington Post all featured detailed stories peering under the hood of what's known as the "chargemaster" list of healthcare prices -- essentially the sticker price for medical procedures charged by hospitals.

The data, made available in spreadsheet form by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, show a wide variance in what hospitals bill for similar services, even among facilities in the same region or city. The three news organizations that got an advance peek at the dataset were able to create maps and charts that drill down on some of the pricing variations among providers. The information covers charges from 2011 at 3,300 hospitals.

The prices listed are more of a starting point for negotiations with private insurance providers and government, not what insurers and CMS actually collect for services, but they are bound to spark discussion of what constitutes reasonable charges for medical services.

The Health and Human Services Department is seeding that discussion with $87 million in grant opportunities, also announced May 8, to use the price data to create online consumer-facing "pricing centers" to crunch the chargemaster numbers on a state-by-state basis. In addition, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is planning a "data visualization challenge" to fund applications created out of the newly released chargemaster dataset.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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Reader comments

Fri, May 10, 2013 Jim California

Charges, Collections and Costs... 3 different ways to look at health care. But only actual cost tells us if HC costs are increasing. The acual COST of healthcare is what we need to watch. Cost = labor, supplies and overhead. Until we know the costs we cannot reform healthcare.

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