Folwell calls out hospitals for ignoring price transparency law

Published February 10, 2022

By Carolina Journal

State Treasurer Dale Folwell is raising concerns about hospitals’ compliance with federal price transparency laws. Folwell highlights new research that “directly counters” competing claims about price transparency from Attorney General Josh Stein.

Folwell “joins the national nonprofit Patient Rights Advocate to condemn the widespread violation of hospital price transparency rules,” according to a news release Thursday. “The treasurer is calling for federal and state action to fully enforce patients’ right to know hospital prices.”

Patient Rights Advocate looked at 500 randomly selected hospitals across the country, including 21 in North Carolina.

“The study raises clear doubts concerning the compliance by certain North Carolina hospitals with federal price transparency rules,” according to Folwell’s release. “Only four out of 21 analyzed North Carolina hospitals complied with price transparency rules in 2021.”

“Their research directly counters a recent report by Attorney General Josh Stein, who said he was ‘encouraged by North Carolina hospitals’ widespread compliance’ with rules meant to ‘keep health care costs in check,’” Folwell’s release added.

Folwell and Stein are both members of the elected Council of State. Folwell is a Republican, while Stein is a Democrat.

The treasurer cited other portions of the new study that contradicted the attorney general’s findings.

“According to Patient Rights Advocate, all six hospitals owned by Mission Health HCA failed to comply with multiple tenets of the rule, while hospitals owned by Cone, Novant, UNC, and Duke Health were also flagged as noncompliant,” according to Folwell’s release. “The attorney general graded Mission HCA as ‘fully compliant,’ despite the systems’ failure to post any negotiated rates, according to the Patient Rights Advocate’s study.”

Without using Stein’s name, Folwell criticized his Council of State colleague.

“We cannot wait for hospitals to willingly give up the profits reaped from secret contracts and hidden prices,” said Folwell in the release. “Without price transparency, patients are left at the mercy of hospital billing departments. When state officials praise hospitals for breaking federal rules, patients are the ones who are punished by having to pay higher prices.”

The treasurer noted opposition to the price transparency law from the American Hospital Association and North Carolina Healthcare Association.

“North Carolina is facing a cost crisis,” according to the treasurer’s release. “North Carolina is one of the most expensive states for health care in the nation. A starting teacher or trooper must work one week out of every month just to afford the family premium for health care. One in five families has a medical bill in collections. The cost of health care is not only punishing families but also robbing North Carolinians of their upward mobility.”

Cynthia Fisher, founder of Patient Rights Advocate, offered her assessment of the new research.  “The majority of North Carolina hospitals are flouting compliance, harming employers and consumers,” Fisher said. “Hospitals’ omission of comparative price information blocks consumers from benefiting from knowing the competition, seeking fair and equitable prices, and saving their money. We applaud the four hospitals in North Carolina that are already fully complying with the Hospital Price Transparency Rule and hope the rest do so this year.”

Folwell calls on other elected officials “to join him in defending patients’ rights to know the price of their care,” according to his release.

“The price transparency rules offer real hope for change,” he said. “Too many hospitals don’t want you to see their prices, but North Carolinians cannot afford to wait any longer. Federal and state leaders must act now to defend patients, instead of delaying enforcement or even obscuring the truth.”